The Boy with the Cuckoo-clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu

“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 your hour hand will poke through your skin, your bones will shatter, and your heart will break once more.”

I saw that title and that wonderful cover and I was intrigued.

I read the contents and I was enchanted.

The Boy With The Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a fairy tale with a grown-up twist. It’s a little bit dark and a little bit gothic. And it’s quite beautifully done.

The story begins in Edinburgh on the 16th day of April 1974. The coldest night that the world has ever known.

In an old house at the top of a high hill a young girl, alone in the world, is giving birth to a child. But that child, a boy, is born with a frozen heart.

It is fortunate that he was delivered into the world by Doctor Madeleine, She is known as a “mad-wife”, because she brings into the world the children of prostitutes and abandoned women. And she has a keen interest in prosthetics too. So, of course, she knows just how to help baby Jack.

Snip, snip, snip, she cuts into his chest and removes the frozen heart. And what can she replace it with. Ah yes – a cuckoo clock!

The operation is a success, and Jack’s mother leaves him in Doctor Madeleine’s hands.

The story is lovely and it is enhanced by some lovely writing. The cold, dark night and the old house are brought to life with perfect details and everything simply but wonderfully described.

Time, of course, moves on.

Jack thrives under Madeleine’s watchful eyes but, of course, is not like other boys. Each day begins with a wind-up, and a reminder from Doctor Madeleine of the strictures he must follow. And that makes him an outsider.

It is probably inevitable that Jack will one day break the rules. Of course he does! He falls in love with Miss Acacia, a beautiful young street-singer, His gears screech and his hands whizz around. And that’s not his only problem. He has a fierce rival for miss acacia’s affections.

So Jack is in all sorts of trouble.

And that leads him into a journey. A quite extraordinary journey. He will cross paths with a fabulous selection of characters. He will visit strange and exotic places. And he will learn a great deal about life and love.

There’s a lot going on, but it would be unfair to say any more.

The story is engaging, but it is the way it is dressed up that make it so special. The inventiveness, those lovely details, those wonderful descriptions really make it sing.

I was gripped until the very last word – which was just right – and though I have had to leave Jack behind I will not forget him, or his story.

Mathias Malzieu’s influences are clear, but they have clearly inspired him – he has created a magical little book.

Translated by Sarah Ardizzone

10 responses

  1. I stopped reading your review after the first few paragraphs so the book wouldn’t be spoiled. What I read was enough to convince me this is a gem of a book I hadn’t heard of before now. 🙂

  2. Pingback: 2009: A Year in the Library … and a Year in the Pub « Fleur Fisher reads

  3. Pingback: Saturday Review of Books: December 19, 2009 : Semicolon

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