Oh my word, this book is wonderful. I usually like to let books settle in before I declare them a favourite, but I’m waiving that. The Boy With The Cuckoo Clock Heart is from the hand of French rock star Mathias Malzieu, lead singer of Dionysus (I haven’t heard of them, but apparently he’s been credited as the Francois Truffaut of rock, and the back cover comes complete with a slightly odd recommendation from Eric Cantona) and has an accompanying album, from which the above song and video is taken. The story itself is of a boy born on the coldest day on earth, and saved from death by the local witch/midwife who places a cuckoo clock to keep his heart going. Our melancholy hero resigns himself to a life on the outside, banned forever from loving lest it damage the cogs that keep him alive, until he sees the ‘little singer’. When she disappears, he sets off across Europe in search of her.
Cuckoo Clock Heart is the kind of book Tim Burton might have produced if he was French — a sense of fable, and the gothic, with the Gallic charm and philosophy, and a few ruder jokes that somehow weave in unnoticeably. Jack’s journey is mesmerising, from the misty Edinburgh mountains of his birth to the Extraordinarium where he finds the girl he has loved. The book is populated with a jumble of characters all who have their own stories that could be books in their own right–the prostitute aunts who convince him Cunnilingus is the name of a Roman Emperor (Jack names his gerbil after him), Jack the Ripper, the owner of the Ghost Train, Joe the walking lamppost, and Georges Melies (the same man immortalised in the film Hugo, which is also wonderful.) The romance is full of poetry, and whereas I usually quote sections I love from books in my reviews, there was one on nearly every page. (And you can tell this book is French; it doesn’t shy away from a sex scene.)
If anything, my only criticism is that Jack’s adventures did not go on long enough–his wanderings across the continent could have gone on for chapter after chapter and I would have carried on reading. The ending is a surprise–the mystery and starlight fading to a bleaker daylight, while I would have preferred to run away with the circus and stick to the madcap characters and adventures.
An animated film version (presumably in the style of the music video below) is apparently in post-production, so read this before it arrives–although it has Luc Besson at the helm, who (aside from being a great director) was the man responsible for The Amazing Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec, my favourite film of last year. How can this possibly go wrong?
ADDENDUM: in the end the film passed out of the hands of Luc Besson, and was directed by Stephane Berla and Mathias Malzieu himself. It's a pretty good film with some imaginative elaborations on the book, but for me didn't quite capture the magic of the book. Trailer below!