I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions and you would be perfectly within your rights to point out that the latter half of February is a bit late to be thinking about such things anyway. Nevertheless, I am making a New Year’s resolution right now, namely that in future when I decide to order a book on the strength of another blogger’s review I shall make a note of which book was recommended by which blogger. However, as I am only making that resolution as of right this minute I don’t know who it was who first posted about Graham Joyce’s novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale and so I can’t give credit where credit is due. If it was you then I apologise profusely as well as offering my grateful thanks.
How to begin to describe this extraordinary book? Well, you could say it’s a crime novel. Certainly, from the perspective of Tara’s family it would seem that way. Twenty years before the narrative begins fifteen year old Tara has vanished, leaving her parents, older brother, Peter, and boyfriend, Richie, individually and collectively shattered. Has she simply walked out on them or has something far worse happened to her? The police seem to have no doubts that the latter scenario is the true one and they are perfectly prepared to pin the crime on Richie. However, while there has undoubtedly been a disagreement between the couple, there is no real evidence that Richie (as nice a chap as you could wish to meet: can I have one, please?) has been involved and no related charge is brought. But, even the suggestion that he might have been involved drives a wedge between Richie and the Martin family and when the book begins they have not had anything to do with each other during the intervening years.
And then Tara comes home.
I’m giving nothing away here because this is where the narrative begins. Tara comes home, and when asked where she has been it quickly becomes apparent that the issue at hand is not simply to do with whether or not a crime has been committed but what the results of that twenty year absence have done to Tara’s mind, because according to Tara she has only been gone a matter of months and those months have been spent with the fairies. (N.B. Don’t call them fairies; they don’t like it.)
Well, this is the twenty-first century isn’t it? So don’t be surprised when nobody believes her and Peter promptly drags her off to the local shrink. (You may think that I am according a member of a reputable profession little respect. Let me tell you, by the end of the book respect was the last thing I felt for him.) Said shrink, Vivian Underwood, (you are allowed to laugh, Richie certainly does) is convinced that all this fairy nonsense is nothing more than a product of Tara’s mind.
She talks of making a crossing. We can be sure there is no crossing, at least not in the material world. There is no border, no gateway nor checkpoint. There is not even a river to ford. The ‘crossing’ she has made is from the safe place of what she feels is her domestic incarceration to a place of open possibility. Her psyche has opened up like a flower to her own unconscious longings. She has ‘crossed’ from the restricted, rationalised world of the local, the world of her safe childhood, to the open, creative and chaotic world of the universal, to the more dangerous realm of the adult.
Sometimes, you know, meeting a fairy is just meeting a fairy.
Well, you will have to make your own mind up about what really did happen to Tara. Perhaps you may feel that all those stories of fairy abduction that have come down to us through the centuries have no more validity behind them than a puff of wind on a May morning. But, even if you end up firmly in the camp of those who believe there is a rational explanation for everything, you will still have to admire Joyce’s writing and some of the wonderful characters he creates. Take, for example, Peter’s neighbour, the very ancient Mrs Larwood, who understands a great deal more about what is and isn’t true about existence than the Vivian Underwoods of this world can ever hope to. I’m not even going to try an explain why Peter’s son, Jack, is trying to palm off a stray cat on the old lady in the pretence that it is the one she’s lost. It’s enough to know that she sees through the ruse immediately.
“How old are you Jack? Thirteen is it?”
He nodded, wiping his eyes.
“I’m going to tell you something. You didn’t want me to know that my cat was dead. You were trying to protect me. Your instincts were good. But it would have been better if you told me then I would have been able to put it behind me. Pets die. People die. I know enough about life to know that when something like that happens, you can’t put the clocks back. Do you understand me, Jack?”
“You’re a good lad. Now take this box. And say to me, Mrs Larwood, your cat died but I found you a lovely new cat.”
Jack could barely speak. He had a stone in his throat. “Mrs Larwood,” he croaked “your cat died but I found you a lovely new cat.”
“He’s a beauty,” Mrs Larwood said, taking the box from Jack all over again.
While ultimately this book is neither a crime novel nor a novel about the psychological damage that a traumatic event may inflict on the mind of a young woman, while it may appear to be a book that in fact asks us to question whether a need to find a rational explanation for everything may not be more damaging than being prepared to accept that are ‘more things in heaven and earth’, it is also a book that speaks to the truth of what any disappearance does to those that are left behind. The premise may not be one you can accept, but the truth of the pain felt by all those concerned rings out from every page. I may not believe in Vivian Underwood’s type of psychology but I believe in the psychological truth of what happens to the characters in this novel. Whoever it was that recommended this book, thank you. I am now going out to read everything Joyce has ever written.