The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

“ I love you crookedly because my heart’s been unhinged from birth. The doctors gave me strict instructions not to fall in love: my fragile clockwork heart would never survive. But when you gave me a dose of love so powerful – far beyond my wildest dreams – that I felt able to confront anything for you, I decided to put my life in your hands.” 
― Mathias Malzieu, La Mécanique du cœur

‘The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’, a metaphorical, sweet, and disturbing little book translated into English from French, is a Tim Burtonesque fable of the rarest kind. I purchased the book at the well-known historical bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Attracted by Benjamin Lacombe’s art on the cover (check some of it out here) I couldn’t not give it a go, and boy am I happy that I did!

Our story begins on a cold dark wintry night (of course it does), when an unkown woman gives birth to a very pale baby, delivered by ‘Dr Madeline’ also known as ‘the witch’ in a gothic house set on top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Because yes, this dark gothic tale is set in 19th century Scotland (and we even bump into Jack the Ripper at one point)! The baby is sickly, his heart is weak, and our steampunkish doctor decides to link the hardly-beating heart with a cuckoo-clock set right into the boy’s chest.

Three rules must always be kept:
1. Never touch the hands of the heart-clock
2. Keep your temper under control
3 Whatever else you do, never ever fall in love

Needless to say that during the course of his life, Jack breaks all three rules.

By the way, did I mention there is also an animated version of the book? And it is AMAZING. Yes, this is what happens when the author, Mathias Malzieu, is the leading singer of a French rock band – Dionysus. They created the music for the animated movie themselves of course. You can find some clips on Youtube (both in the original French version and translated to English). 

Oh yes, this book was a real discovery. Thank you Paris. Thank you Shakespeare and Co. Thank you Benjamin Lacombe. And most of all thank you so much Mathias Malzieu!

P.S If you loved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’, this book is right up your street.

Personal rating – 5 on 5 Stars!

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The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

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The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

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In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

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The National Book Fair Sucks… sorry. This is my opinion.

People I hardly know tag me on book-related stuff on Facebook (and I love it). Friends have ceased to ask me why I always have books in my handbag. People who hardly know me identify me because unless I’m talking to someone, there’s always an open book in front of me.

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Let’s face it, everyone knows that I’m a Book-addict/Bookaholic/Bibliophile/Nerd/Bookworm/etc. I think books, breathe books and live in books in my mind most of the time. For me, the characters I’m reading about at that moment in time are more real than ‘real life’, and even though I try to rein it in to ‘appear like a normal human being’ on the surface, it just seeps through.

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So, I’m guessing with the opening of the National Malta Book Fair this afternoon, I am ‘expected’ to go into an orgiastic frenzy and tear everything in my path until I’m standing right there buying everything in sight. I admit, that was the case once. But unfortunately, things change.

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I’m going to come out and say it, and I don’t care who takes offence, because it is my right as a person to say what I think. THIS YEAR I AM NOT GOING TO THE BOOKFAIR BECAUSE IT SUCKS!

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It wasn’t always like this. Up until around four/five years ago, it was great. One of the most anticipated weeks of the year (for me), but all that slowly ground to a halt as I realised that the fair was becoming more and more crappy each year. What happened?

Well, first of all people go to a fair to find bargains. It’s the truth. We rush there hoping we’ll ‘find’ something we couldn’t normally purchase, or that we find something cheaper than usual, which is why we’d be especially waiting for the fair to buy it. In the past, this applied to the bookfair as there were many bargains depending on the different stalls. Many of them offered a ‘buy two books, get one free’ deal, while others offered paperbacks for very cheap and worthwhile prices.

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Nowadays, the prices are the same as those found within regular stores, and sometimes more expensive than the prices of books bought online – so in that case, why bother?

In relation to the books themselves, I used to go ‘hunting’ for books which one does not normally find in stores too. Like old editions of fairytales for example, or novels written by obscure authors I had never heard of, but which were brilliant nonetheless. Today this is no longer possible, simply because ADULT NOVELS in ENGLISH are only a very small portion of the books on offer during the fair. This is because the fair has mostly become a publicity stunt to show how our society is trying to promote reading for children. This is not a mistake at all per se, as it is obviously important for the powers that be to provide opportunities for new readers, however the bad thing is that by doing so, they are NEGLECTING already developed readers. By focusing only on children’s books, the bookfair is neglecting adults who like to read!!

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Another thing is the overly obvious promotion of books in the Maltese language. Personally I do not like to read in Maltese, preferring English as this complements my state of mind more. This does not mean that other people don’t love to read in Maltese, obviously. I also understand the importance of promoting and creating opportunities for writers of Maltese, as well as books about Malta, to take a prominent role within the National BookFair. It is a matter of course. What I DO NOT get is why lately, the bookfair is offering only:

  1. Books for children
  2. Novels and other books in Maltese
  3. Historical books about Malta

WHERE are the novels/books in the English language for adults??

I don’t mean to say there aren’t any, but there are VERY FEW on offer, and these are quite mainstream and found in shops all year round, not to mention online. So, why on earth should I need to go to the bookfair to get a hold of them?

Considering that in Malta, both the Maltese and the English language are ‘official languages’, one should be as important as the other!

Last year, I asked the relevant Facebook page pertaining to the bookfair whether there would be a good assortment of literature in English. The answer I got was that there would be books in English, just as there would be books in Italian and French. For shame! English is one of the two official languages of Malta, why is it being relegated to a ‘third language’ status?
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I’m sure many will not agree with me and that is not a problem. However, these are the reasons why I personally, will not be going to the National Bookfair this year. I simply know I will not find anything that will interest me there. As I didn’t find anything (except boredom and wasted time that is) last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. Thank you very much for nothing, I will continue buying my non-mainstream and new, yet inexpensive books online.

End of rant. You may like to start kindling your fires and sharpening your pitchforks now.

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