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3.12.2008

The Book of Lost Things: a Romance

Flipping open A. S. Byatt's Possession, I find an excerpt from Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of Seven Gables inscribed in the beginning pages. I have not yet begun Byatt's novel. Rather, I started John Connolly's Book of Lost Things instead. To be more accurate, I began Connolly's novel over a month ago in the corner of my bookstore in the last few minutes of a lunch break. Soon realizing that the book deserved more than stolen time, I set it aside to begin in earnest at a later date. That date is the twelfth of March: today. I paused in my reading only to shut the back door, slice some strawberries (which were about to go bad), and make a cup of tea. Oh yes, and to casually open Byatt's novel to the Hawthorne inscription, note its happy relevance to my more committed novel, and blog about it.

Here's the inscription:

When a writer calls him work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former - while as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart - has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. . . . The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us.

Now, if you were to consider the 'bygone time' he refers to in that last sentence to signify childhood rather than the historical past (I admit, it is not meant to signify that, but humor me), this would be a very good description of the distinction between John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things and the average literary novel floating about today. I would not call it fantasy, for that implies a certain indulgence and often excess of other-worldliness. And does more than present an alternate reality: it depicts a disturbing (and engaging) muddle between reality and story. It is, as are most of my favourite tales, a story of a journey. And more than just a trek through a mysterious forest. It is a modern bildungsroman, with all the familiar angst and enlightenment any young person experiences when walking from youth to adulthood. And it is a fairy tale as well. A true fairy tale, honest about the darkness of the devouring wolf, the terrible cry of the Loop Lerou.

Someday, oh someday! I will be a blurb writer. Just you wait.

So, anyway, I suggest this book to anyone interested in fantasy that's somewhat more than fantasy - even though I haven't finished it myself yet. And though I am compelled by the story, I have occasional reservations as to its delivery. But the story itself is fascinating.

2 comments:

  1. i hope you didnt buy the book. i think i may own it. :-)
    wanna borrow the movie? i know i have THAT.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't buy it. I got it at the library after returning the twenty something books I checked out the week before in a gluttonous book craze. Like I don't get enough of them at work?

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