Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu

GENRE: fairytale for adults

Edinburgh, 1874. On the coldest night the world has ever seen, Little Jack is born with a frozen heart and immediately undergoes a life-saving operation. But Dr Madeleine is no conventional medic and surgically implants a cuckoo clock into his chest. Little Jack grows different from other children: every day begins with a daily wind-up. At school he is bullied for his ‘ticking’, but Dr Madeleine reminds him he must resist strong emotion: anger is far too dangerous for his cuckoo-clock heart. So when a beautiful young street-singer, Miss Acacia, appears – pursued by Joe, the school bully – Jack is in danger of more than just falling in love...he is putting his life on the line.


I really loved this book. This is a beautiful, slightly dark fairytale for adults, full of symbolism that makes you think.

The protagonist is Jack, a boy who has a cuckoo-clock heart because he was born with a frozen heart. He has an adoptive mother, Dr Madeleine, who saved his life by giving him a mechanical heart. For ten years, just being with Madeleine and his friends Arthur, a tramp, and two prostitutes, Luna and Anna, was enough. But one day, Jack wants to see the city and it’s when his life changes. On that day, he falls in love and the bird is ready to leave his nest. Madeleine doesn’t want that to happen, fearing that too much emotions might kill Jack, so she makes him remember three rules:

Firstly, don’t touch the hands of your cuckoo-clock heart. Secondly: master your anger. Thirdly: never, ever fall in love. For if you do, the hour hand will poke through your skin, your bones will shatter, and your heart will break once more.

This is a pretty haunting and disconcerting set of rules, but Jack ignores them and goes in search of his love. His journey takes him from Edinburgh to London, Paris and eventually Andalusia. On his journey, he meets strange and dangerous people. One of them is Jack the Ripper, whom Jack meets on a train, and the other one is George Méliès, based on the real-life Méliès, the first cinematographic director. Méliès is a magician and also a bit of a clockmaker, and Jack invites him to journey with him, as Jack needs a good clockmaker by his side. Jack finds his love, but things are not nearly as simple as he had imagined them to be.

This little book (it only has 176 pages) has many wonderful, touching, as well as sad moments and those moments that make you think. Malzieu’s writing style is really amazing and poetic, full of incredibly original metaphors, similes, descriptions, and so on. I also loved the symbolism. I, personally, found two messages in the book. One is that your environment can define you too much. You get lost in the definition that was forced upon you and you end up not knowing yourself, which influences your relationships with other people. The second one is that parents should let their children leave home eventually. You can’t keep them with you forever, but if you force them to stay, you can ruin their lives. This is what Jack's cuckoo-clock heart represents, in my opinion. This really is a poignant tale. It’s about the darker sides of growing up.

I only have one problem with the book and that is Malzieu’s insertions of modern objects into the tale. This is supposed to be taking place in the late 19th century, yet in some descriptions Malzieu mentions planes, Tour de France, football cup and so on. That really bothered me. Perhaps it was intentional, to give the story a steampunk feel. Still, it bothered me.

Apart from that, this story is really amazing. Fans of Neil Gaiman or Tim Burton will surely know to appreciate it, but even if fairytales for adults are not your style, I think you should give this book a try because to me, it transcends genres.

Mathias Malzieu
is the lead singer of the French pop group Dionysos and he wrote an album based on the novel. You can watch a video about the novel, with Malzieu’s music in the background, HERE, I recommend that you do. English subtitles are added. I have this song stuck in my head.

THIS MISS RATES: / (4.5 stars)


Alexa Adams said...

This sounds really good! Thanks for the review!

The Readings of a Busy Mom said...

this sounds like a great bok, its left me very very inrigued

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Anonymous said...

Great Review! I really love the cover of this one, it's really appealing.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I really need to find this one now!

Unknown said...

I love the sound of this - slightly dark fairytales for adults. Sort of reminds my of Angela Carter. I am not so sure about the steampunk issue you raise though. The insertion of the modern seems a little strange. Great review.

Blodeuedd said...

Awww this one sounds so lovely, and cute, and utterly strange.
Nice review :D

Leah said...

We saw this last night at the bookstore and it seemed good, but after your review, we are definitely going to have to pick it up.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Thank you all for your responses! I am glad I convinced some of you to read it, yay!;)

BookQuoter said...

How exciting, I just picked this book from my library today. I thought it looked interesting. Thanks.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

This sounds really interesting; I'm not sure it's something I would have picked up without a fellow blogger's expert opinion although I do love that cover. I will keep an eye out for it!

Unknown said...

This looks like a steampunkish book that has never made it onto my radar until now. Thank you.

Mad Scientist

childrens clocks said...

The insertion of the modern seems a little strange. Great review.

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