06 July 2012

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart

A few books ago I posted a review of The Little Prince for Beware of the Froggies’ “We Want You To Read French Authors” challenge.  My goal for this challenge was a paltry ONE title, and with this addition of The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart.  I have officially surpassed my goal by 100%.  I chose this title solely because the title sounded fun and it was available as an audiobook from my library.  At the risk of spoiling my review I’ll just mention that participating in this challenge has been a good experience anyway, but after finding this one I’ll definitely be back for another round if they choose to make it an annual affair.

Note:  Lyra just reviewed this one too and it wasn’t necessarily her cup of tea so if it turns out that I sound like an idiot, check her review here.

The Boy with the Cuckoo Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu
Audiobook read by Jim Dale
Published in 2010
Got it from: Public Library
4h 53m

On the coldest day on earth a baby was born to a mother who could not keep him.  That day was so cold that birds fell from the sky and baby Jack’s heart is frozen solid.  Jack’s midwife, Madeleine, was luckily experienced in non-traditional medicine and was able to graft a cuckoo clock into his heart which would keep his blood pumping and allow him to see that the world wasn’t always so cold.

The advice of our parents
While his operation is the very thing that saves his life, the rest of little Jack’s life is haunted by his cuckoo clock heart.  Physically – audibly rather – it ticks and tocks, chimes and cuckoo’s at the most inopportune times.  Emotionally because of the ill-timed warning Madeleine gives him to never fall in love immediately after he had just seen the most beautiful girl in the world, Miss Acacia, a dancer from Andalucia.

As with most children who have just received the most important word of advice from a parent, Jack promptly does the opposite and acquiesces to the supposed perils of love.  He just couldn’t help it even if it kills him.

It was pretty easy to fall in love with little Jack from the start and it was made even easier when he sets out to find his love (a quest that eventually leads him across Europe).  The gusto with which he approaches love for the first time, regardless of the possible effects was endearing but also terrifying whenever his cuckoo objects or threatens peril.

TBCCH is a love story that is alternatively cautionary, celebratory and sometimes quite gruesome or sad but despite what is actually a pretty unlikely story, it was precisely that sporadic and confused take on love that made it all the more believable and…realistic.

Malzieu’s poetry
I don’t think this book would have worked if Malzieu’s prose wasn’t such a darkly beautiful poetry.  As Lyra pointed out in her review, the whole thing conveys the feeling you are inside a Tim Burton film.  A beautiful, hyper-stylized, playful kind of scary.  I haven’t always loved Tim Burton’s films so it wasn’t necessarily a given that I would become so enthralled, but man if this didn’t work.  As for myself, I was making pretty strong connections to Carnivàle while listening, but I think both comparisons work pretty well.

My experience with magical realism is limited to section of a Latin American Humanities course in college.  Limited as it may be, my experience with magical realism has also been thoroughly enjoyable and after listening to TBCCH, nothing has changed. 

It was a fairly quick “read”, but it was painfully entertaining.  This would be a great one to curl up with before bed.  Or, if you’re like me and need some aural entertainment, Jim Dale kills this one so don’t be afraid to check out the audiobook.


  1. I know people who like the book in parts: they like the first bit, before he leaves on his adventure, or they liked the inclusion of George Méliès as a character, or they liked the language, but the story itself faltered.

    It is a fairly quick read and for those who love the strange and darkly pretty I would totally recommend it.

    Burton is a good match, but Marc Caro/Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of City of Lost Children) came to mind, too.

    ~L (omphaloskepsis)

    1. I guess you can count me in that crowd:

      "I don’t think this book would have worked if Malzieu’s prose wasn’t such a darkly beautiful poetry."

      You could add a new category now - for those that enjoyed Jim Dale's reading! I agree the story itself was a bit wonky at times though I still think people should read it.

      I didn't know The City of Lost Children but now I'm intrigued. Thanks!


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