The Book of Lost Things was a dark and moving narrative ode to the power of storytelling, steeped in twisted fairy tales. Finally, John Connolly is returning to that universe. This is just as engrossing and atmospheric as the first, with stakes that drive the plot through this dark and fantastical world.
“Twice upon a time—for that is how some stories should continue...”
Phoebe, an eight-year-old girl, lies comatose following a car accident—a body without a spirit. Ceres, her mother, can only sit by her bedside and read aloud the fairy stories Phoebe loves in the hope they might summon her back to this world.
But an old house on the hospital grounds, a property connected to a book written by a vanished author, is calling to Ceres. Something wants her to enter, to journey to a land colored by the memories of childhood, and the folklore beloved of her father—a land of witches and dryads, giants and mandrakes; a land where old enemies are watching and waiting...
The Land of Lost Things.
About the Author
Date of Birth:May 31, 1968
Place of Birth:Dublin, Ireland
Education:B.A. in English, Trinity College Dublin, 1992; M.A. in Journalism, Dublin City University, 1993
Read an Excerpt
Chapter I: Uhtceare I Uhtceare (OLD ENGLISH) To Lie Awake Before Dawn, Too Worried to Sleep
Twice upon a time—for that is how some stories should continue—there was a mother whose daughter was stolen from her. Oh, she could still see the girl. She could touch her skin and brush her hair. She could watch the slow rise and fall of her chest, and if she placed her hand upon the child’s breast, she could feel the beating of her heart. But the child was silent, and her eyes remained closed. Tubes helped her to breathe, and tubes kept her fed, but for the mother it was as though the essence of the one she loved was elsewhere, and the figure in the bed was a shell, a mannequin, waiting for a disembodied soul to return and animate it.
In the beginning, the mother believed that her daughter was still present, sleeping, and that by the sound of a beloved voice telling stories and sharing news she might be induced to wake. But as the days became weeks, and the weeks became months, it grew harder and harder for the mother to keep faith in the immanence of her daughter, and so she grew to fear that everything that was her child, all that gave her meaning—her conversation, her laughter, even her crying—might never come back, and she would be left entirely bereft.
The mother’s name was Ceres, and her daughter was called Phoebe. There was also a man once—but not a father, because Ceres refused to dignify him with the word, he having left them to fend for themselves before the girl was even born. As far as Ceres was aware, he was living somewhere in Australia, and had never shown any desire to be part of his daughter’s life. To be honest, Ceres was happy with this situation. She had not felt any lasting love for the man, and his disengagement suited her. She retained some small gratitude toward him for helping to create Phoebe, and on occasion she saw a little of him in her daughter’s eyes and smile, but it was a fleeting thing, like a half-remembered figure glimpsed on the platform of a station as the train rolls by; sighted, then soon forgotten. Phoebe, too, had demonstrated only minimal curiosity about him, but with no accompanying wish to make contact, even though Ceres had always assured her that she could, if she wanted to. He was not on any social media, regarding it as the devil’s work, but a few of his acquaintances used Facebook, and Ceres knew that they would get a message to him, if required.
But that necessity had never arisen, not until the accident. Ceres wanted him to know what had happened, if only because the trauma was too much for her to bear alone, even as all attempts to share it failed to diminish it. Ultimately she received only a curt acknowledgment via one of his associates: a single line, informing her that he was sorry to hear about the “mishap,” and he hoped Phoebe would get better soon, as though the child that was a part of him were struggling with flu or measles, and not the aftermath of a catastrophic collision between a car and the delicate body of an eight-year-old girl.
For the first time, Ceres hated Phoebe’s father, hated him almost as much as the idiot who’d been texting while driving—and sending a message, not to his wife but to his girlfriend, which made him both an idiot and a deceiver. He’d visited the hospital a few days after the accident, forcing Ceres to request he be removed before he could talk to her. Since then he’d tried to contact her both directly and through his lawyers, but she wanted nothing to do with him. She hadn’t even wanted to sue him, not at first, although she’d been advised that she had to, if only to pay for her daughter’s care, because who knew how long Phoebe might endure this half-life: turned regularly by the nurses so that her poor skin would not develop bedsores, and surviving only with the aid of technology. Phoebe had banged her head on the ground after the impact, and so, while the rest of her injuries were healing, something in her brain remained damaged, and no one could say when, or if, it might repair itself.
A whole new vocabulary had presented itself to Ceres, an alien way of interpreting a person’s continuance in the world: cerebral edema, axonal injury, and most important of all, to mother and child, the Glasgow Coma Scale, the metric by which Phoebe’s consciousness—and, by extension, possibly her right to life—was now determined. Score less than five across eye, verbal, and motor responses, and the chances of death or existing in a persistent vegetative state were 80 percent. Score more than eleven, and the chances of recovery were estimated at 90 percent. Hover, like Phoebe, between those two figures and, well...
Phoebe wasn’t brain-stem dead; that was the important thing. Her brain still flickered faintly with activity. The doctors believed that Phoebe wasn’t suffering, but who could say for sure? (This, always spoken softly, and at the end, almost as an afterthought: Who can say for sure? We just don’t know, you see. The brain, it’s such a complex organism. We don’t think there’s any pain, but...) A conversation had taken place at the hospital, during which it was suggested that, down the line, if Phoebe showed no signs of improvement, it might be a kindness to—this with a change of tone, and a small, sad smile—let her go.
Ceres would look for hope in their faces, but find only sympathy. She did not want sympathy. She just wanted her daughter returned to her.
October 29th: that was the first visit Ceres had missed, the first day she hadn’t been with Phoebe since the accident. Ceres’s body simply wouldn’t lift itself from the chair in which she had sat to rest. It was too exhausted, too worn down, and so she’d closed her eyes and gone to sleep again. Later, when she woke in that same chair to the dawn light, she felt such guilt that she wept. She checked her phone, certain that she’d missed a message from the hospital informing her that, in her absence—no, because of her absence—Phoebe had passed away, her radiance finally forever dimmed. But there was no message, and when Ceres called the hospital she was told that all was as it had been, and probably as it would continue to be: stillness, and silence.
That was the beginning. Soon she was visiting the hospital only five days out of seven, sometimes even four, and so it had remained ever since. Her sense of culpability became less immediate, although it continued to hover in the background: a gray shape, like a specter. It haunted the shadows of the living room on those mornings and afternoons when she stayed at home, and sometimes she saw it reflected in the television screen as she turned off the set at night, a smear against the dark. The specter had many faces, occasionally even her own. After all, she was a mother who had brought a child into the world and then failed to protect her, letting Phoebe skip just a few steps ahead as they crossed Balham High Road. They were only feet from the curb, and the crossing was quiet, when Phoebe slipped her grip. It was an instant of inattention, but seconds later there was a blur, and a dull thud, and then her daughter as Ceres knew her was gone. Left in her place was a changeling.
Yet the presence that inhabited the dark was not a manifestation of guilt alone, but of something older and more implacable. It was Death Itself, or more correctly Herself, because it assumed a female aspect. On the worst nights at the hospital, as Ceres drifted into uneasy sleep beside her daughter, she could feel Death hovering, seeking her chance. Death would have taken Phoebe on the High Road, if only the child had landed a little more sharply on the ground, and now she remained tantalizingly out of reach. Ceres sensed Death’s impatience, and heard her voice, so close to kindness: “When this becomes too much to bear, ask, and I will disencumber you both.”
And it was all Ceres could do not to give in.