This is my first novel for the Once Upon A Time III challenge. I have read such glowing reviews of this book that I not only read it for the challenge but was thinking that it might be one of my selections for my book club. I am afraid that I didn’t like it. I didn’t hate it either but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations.
The story is about a 12-year-old English boy, David, who, after the death of his mother, moves with his father and new step mother to the new wife’s family’s country estate. David is given an attic room lined with old books from a previous occupant and the books begin to literally whisper to him. One day after seeing an intruder in his room, David hears his dead mother’s voice in the sunken garden calling to him for help. He follows the voice and finds himself in a very different place where he searches for his mother and a way back to his world.
There is nothing I like better than a book about books. I loved the beginning - who could resist books actually whispering - but as soon as he goes through the crack in the garden wall and finds himself in a different world, the book totally lost me. I appreciated that this new realm is not the realm of Disney fairy tales but harkens back to the brutality of the original Grimm fairy tales that do not necessarily have happy endings. The book is definitely not written for kids, or adults who are the faint of heart. But for me, his retelling of extremely familiar fairy tales was not unique enough to keep my interest. As soon as Roland entered the story I wanted to lay this aside and pick up the Dark Tower series by Stephen King which really does a fabulous job using Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. And it’s not that I don’t like fairy tales (I love the Russian ones like Baba Yaga) or re-telling familiar fairy tales (I loved Wicked by Gregory Maguire).
Not only did the plot not hold my interest but the writing itself just wasn’t enough to captivate me. Some authors could write about watching paint dry such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Robbins or Haruki Murakami and I still would be totally entertained and awed by their writing. The writing in this book does not fit into that category. I kept feeling that I was reading a children’s book, even though it is clearly too gruesome in some parts for children. I think that this came from the very simplistic writing style which I found annoying.
Finally, every review I have read has mentioned something that lead me to believe that reading and books would play a major role in the story. (Like the Shadow of the Wind or the Uncommon Reader). I loved the whispering books at the very beginning of the story but that idea was never developed. I was hopeful that since the boy was ultimately seeking “The Book of Lost Things” that a book would play a pivotal role. It is indeed a book about stories and fairy tales but I had hoped that books themselves or reading would play a role.
It was a quick and easy read. All in all I was disappointed as it didn’t live up to my expectations. I do believe however that even if I had not read the rave reviews and had simply read the cover blurb I still would have been unsatisfied with the book.