Thursday, June 21, 2012

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce: book review

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce. Gollancz £9.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

There is a marvellous creative-writing-workshop in-joke in this book. Tara explains to her brother Peter where she’s been for these past six months/twenty years (depending on one’s perspective). She tells him a long story. A chapter or so later Peter paraphrases this tale to his wife: the fairies took her.

Tara turns up on Christmas Day, dishevelled, in need of a bath. She appears exactly the same as she did twenty years ago, when she vanished while walking in the local woods. Her family had thought she’d been kidnapped, murdered, her body lying in a grave somewhere. Her boyfriend had been blamed for her disappearance although hard evidence was never found. And in those two decades they all mourned Tara and eventually came to terms with their loss.

Twenty years on she’s back. But to her, she’s only been gone for six months, living in a commune, of sorts, in that other place, with the fairies (although they hate that moniker). She was trapped there for those months, unable to cross back until the stars were correctly aligned. Tara’s abductor fell in love with her but she didn’t reciprocate; all she wanted to do was return to her world.

Now she is back. Of course, almost no one believes her story. It is up to us, the reader, to decide if she is fabricating the events in order to hide a dark secret. And as Graham Joyce has done so well in previous novels, he drops in huge elements of ambiguity: is the story real or is it all in the mind? Did she run off to Scarborough or somewhere, or perhaps join a circus?

Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a well-crafted novel. Graham Joyce wonderfully weaves into it the people affected by Tara – those who knew her twenty years ago, and the new arrivals: Peter’s wife and their children. Tara’s boyfriend makes a couple of discoveries. Her parents do their best to cope. The children are bemused. The psychiatrist has his own agenda. Peter is infuriated. And Mrs Larwood … I’ll not say more for fear of leaking the plot’s subtleties. All of these folk are brilliantly portrayed – they leave the page as fully-formed adults and children. In the Author’s Notes, Joyce says his own children put him in his place – I bet they did.

You can probably deduce that I loved this novel. It flows with humanity, humour and pathos. I’d be amazed if it doesn’t move you. I rate Some Kind of Fairy Tale amongst the author’s best works, along with The Tooth Fairy, Smoking Poppy and The Facts of Life. Graham Joyce is one of our finest writers who sits happily in both the fantasy and non-fantasy arenas. One hundred percent recommended. (Incidentally, a tenner for a hardcover: a bargain.)

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