The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu

A beautifully written and enchanting adult fairy tale
The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart book cover

Book of the Year 2009 (see all)

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a novel written by French author and singer Mathias Malzieu (whose band also recorded a concept album based upon the story). My English edition of the novel was translated skillfully by Sarah Ardizzone.

The story opens in the Scottish city of Edinburgh in the year of 1874. It is the coldest night the world has ever seen and 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 up different to 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 the 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 found The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart to be a beautifully written and enchanting adult fairy tale. I’m sure many reviewers have already picked up how this book has the feel of a Tim Burton movie, think of a cross between Edward Scissorhands and The Corpse Bride and you’ll be close. It is a book that appears to divide opinion far more than I would have thought it was, as I found it completely charming and thought other readers would too. But some find that book poorly written, or poorly executed. Their opinions should be and are respected but my reading experience was a joyful one.

I guess I kind of like novels like this. It is, for want of a better word, quirky, and I just plain loved it. I thought the translator Sarah Ardizzone did a sterling job and no doubt the novel read in its original language would be even better. This is not a book for children, there are themes that are too adult but teenagers and ages up should hopefully enjoy it immensely. The narrative does of course feature much that is surreal but it is really only Jack’s cuckoo-clock heart that can be called a fantastical element. That aside the narrative is a simple coming of age story that all will recognize and relate to.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a lovely little novel and I would recommend it readers who also love Tim Burton’s films.

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