Troubled young runaway Aydee escapes her abusive home and stumbles across a bookstore called Lost Pages. After a series of bizarre encounters with a variety of creatures and divine beings, Aydee is befriended by Lost Pages’ shopkeeper Lucas and his myriad pet dogs. Together with Lucas, Aydee works and grows up at Lost Pages while dealing with its peculiar customers and the strange books in stock. But far from being a peaceful haven, Lost Pages thrusts Aydee into an ancient conflict between old gods and monsters until she is forced to confront the uncomfortable reality of her own true identity.
It is business as usual for Canadian writer and editor Claude Lalumière, if you consider the usual business to be elegant dark fantasy saturated with phantasmagoric imagery, skillfully wrapped around meta-narrative structures. As a novella, The Door to Lost Pages revisits and continues the mythos of the war between Yamesh-Lot and the Green Blue and Brown God that was featured in Lalumière’s previous collection Objects of Worship (CZP, 2009). Instead of an epic widescreen view, the five short-stories are told from the periphery of the conflict and focus displaced youths. The proliferation of terrible gods and creatures evokes comparisons to the stories of H.P Lovecraft, but in the introduction Paul Di Fillipo states that Lalumière is “channelling Lord Dunsany . . . Charles de Lint, John Crowley or Jeff Vandemeer” (p.13) . However, the overall lucid effect of Lalumière’s writing in this novella hearkens back to venerable writers such as Arthur Madchen and William Hope Hodgson.
Due to Lalumière’s subtle characterization, Aydee can take a deserved place alongside other intrepid dark fantasy heroines such as Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Candy Quackenbush from Clive Barker’s Abarat series. In the first story, “Bestial Acts” Aydee runs away and takes up residence at Lost Pages but retains a healthy sense of scepticism that grounds the narrative despite the peculiar events that swirl around her, “Unknown Knowledge Press—what a ridiculous name! But back then, just the right thing to get my attention.” (Lost Pages, p.39). The transition from the normal world to the fantastic is seamless in ‘Bestial Acts’ and prepares the reader for stranger things to come in the other stories.
There is a delightful ambiguity in the second story, “Let Evil Beware”, in which eight year-old Billy balances homework and a double life as a renowned monster hunter, who comes into Lost Pages looking for intelligence on his quarry. Does Billy possess an overactive imagination on a Walter Mittyesque scale, or is the bookstore exerting its powerful influence over him?
In the third story “Dregs”, the reader gets a wider sense of Lost Pages as a business and the pervasive powers of Yamesh-Lot. Lalumière allows the bookstore a sense of routine whereby Aydee must get on with the business of putting the store in order. But she comes across an anonymous letter and notebook enigmatically delivered to Lost Pages. Both items convey a dark tale of subjugation and shapeshifting, and suggest that bad dreams are the evil work of Yamesh-Lot. In the fourth story, “Dark Tendrils”, Yamesh-Lot visits demonic visions and nightmares upon Kurt, an unlucky party-goer who attempts to find a magic solution in Lost Pages. But Kurt finds protection and solace in an unlikely childhood talisman.
In the poignant final story, “Lost Girls” Aydee must face and resolve the life she left behind when she joined Lost Pages and the catalyst for this change comes from Sandra, a dropout stuck in a toxic ménage á trois with two men. It is only in the coda, the meta-textual approach employed by Lalumière almost obstructs the narrative. By inserting his authorial self as a character into the story, the final pages risk coming across as extraneous.
The Door to Lost Pages offers a tour of Lalumière’s inventive imagination and the fantasy milieu that was introduced in Objects of Worship. Although the experience may be overwhelming for the less adventurous reader, it is worth a look inside.