Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Tara Martin disappeared when she was 15 years old, and then 20 years later on Christmas Day, she shows up at her parents' door. In Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Tara's family is understandably skeptical about her story. Was she really abducted by fairies? Tara claims she has only been gone for six months and admittedly, she looks about the same age as when she left. But this is England in the 21st century. There must be some other explanation. Her parents are just regular British folk, the kind who rely on a spot of tea for comfort.

"Tea being the drug of choice in the Martin household, Dell concocted more of it, thick and brown and sweet. After all, they'd had a bit of a shock; and whenever they had a shock or an upset or experienced a disturbance of any kind they had poured tea on it for as long as any of them could remember."

Tara's brother Peter is now married with four children. Tara's old boyfriend Richie, however, hasn't been able to get over her. The police strongly suspected, at the time, that he had something to do with her disappearance. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is more of a domestic drama than a fantasy, since Tara's accounts of another world populated with dangerous sex fiends could be fabrication or perhaps a sign of mental illness. Peter pays for her to have therapy sessions with an eccentric psychiatrist.

Joyce shifts between different points of view, opening each chapter with quotations like this one from Albert Einstein: "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairytales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales." Clinical records of Tara's psychiatrist are interspersed with the Martin family's daily affairs and the reacquaintance happening between Tara and Richie.

Out one night at a pub, Richie tells Tara it's time to drink up and get home, but she protests.
"It's not eleven o'clock. The landlord hasn't called last orders yet."
"That's all changed. They don't do that anymore," he said. "That's all gone."
(I wonder if that applies in Edmonton also? I haven't been out late drinking in so long that I've no idea if there's still a "last call." I may as well have been away with the fairies.)

Bluebells underfoot when I visited Wales in 2007.
Tara disappeared from an ancient woodland in early May, when the forest floor was carpeted in bluebells. She urges Peter to think back to that time.

"Do you remember how they were? Their perfume stole the sense right out of your head. It turned you over and shook the juice right out of you. You couldn't walk between them that year they were so dense; you had to swim in them. The madness of it! The scent was so subtle that it got all over you, in your nostrils, in your cavities, and on your fingers like the smell of a sweet sin. Didn't it bind you in blue lace and carry you away?"

Some Kind of Fairy Tale transported me to a place touched with magic. I loved it.

Readalikes: The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey); Impossible (Nancy Werlin); Kit's Wilderness (David Almond); The New Policeman (Kate Thompson); and The Folk Keeper (Franny Billingsley). Interesting that all but the first of these are YA novels.

You might also check out Graham Joyce's list in The Guardian of his favourite literary fairy fiction (which also includes some YA). Joyce is careful to note, however, that fairies don't use that word for themselves, and so he tends to avoid the 'F' word. He has selected books "where the structures of fairytales are abandoned but the world of 'fairy' is imported as a delicate spice." I didn't know what tags to use in this post for Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale. I believe it fits into his description of "fantasist" literature: "a sense of awe and dislocation is upheld here, and a new way of knowing is always the prize."

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