Expectations are funny things. They can influence almost any experience to a large extent – for example, they can make you more or less satisfied with a particular outcome, depending on what you anticipated. This is a major reason why I enter voluntary blackout when I’m waiting for an event, book or film. I don’t want to raise expectations and set myself up for disappointment. I was not tempted as a child to open my Christmas presents early. Santa was safe at our house (well, at least from me).
But even beyond setting expectations, when I believe a book fits in a particular category and then learn differently, I almost always have to step back, reevaluate and then tell myself to keep reading. To not to give up because it wasn’t what I wanted or thought I was getting. It may sound silly, but it’s an important system, because my brain is a funny place.
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.
Edinburgh, 1874. Born with a frozen heart, Jack is near death when his mother abandons him to the care of Dr. Madeleine—witch doctor, midwife, protector of orphans—who saves Jack by placing a cuckoo clock in his chest. As Jack gets older, Dr. Madeleine warns him that his heart is too fragile for strong emotions: he must never, ever fall in love.
And, of course, this is exactly what he does: on his tenth birthday and with head-over-heels abandon for a street-performer named Miss Acacia. Now begins a journey of escape and pursuit, from Edinburgh to Paris to Miss Acacia’s home in Andalusia. Mathias Malzieu’s The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a fantastical, wildly inventive tale of love and heartbreak—by turns poignant and funny—in which Jack finally learns the great joys, and ultimately the greater costs, of owning a fully formed heart.
What to say? I expected a young adult novel, possibly a steampunk-influenced story, featuring a young man. I got instead an adult tale, an allegory of sorts, written mostly in a detached prose with moments of beauty and lyricism. These were contrasted with other moments of clunky description and obfuscation. The trouble is that I don’t know whether to attribute the text’s bipolar tendencies to bad translation or a confusing original text.
My favorite part of this little book was the characterization of Madeleine, the guardian and savior of the ‘Boy’ in the title. She is described with spare precision, her actions and words helping to create a picture of a strange woman who is able to craft and implant such a wondrous thing as a cuckoo-clock heart, and then to nourish the boy afterwards.
Unlike Madeleine, the rest of the book didn’t win me over. Jack did not feel much like a little boy or a young man, and the sudden love (lusting) at age ten shocked me a bit. Heck, let’s be honest: it surprised me right out of my good mood. Some of the other characters were interesting, but the reader wasn’t given enough time with them to feel anything beyond vague curiosity. I do wonder, though, if I had had different expectations going in if I would have appreciated the text to a greater extent.
After all that…I recommend this to: fans of Mathias Malzieu, and anyone who is still curious about a cuckoo-clock heart after reading my review. You’re hardy – and you’ll probably like the book!
The first US resident to comment with a contact method can have a copy of this for their very own. Good luck!