I am not sure what drew me to read Some Kind Of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce. I believe I had it on my Goodreads “To Be Read” list (a list I rarely update) and was looking for some fiction to read on my Kindle. I often have trouble deciding what to read, particularly with fiction, despite having a decent library in my house and on my Kindle. I was able to grab this particular book from the local library using Overdrive and it struck my fancy so I started reading.
For twenty years after Tara Martin disappeared from her small English town, her parents and her brother, Peter, have lived in denial of the grim fact that she was gone for good. And then suddenly, on Christmas Day, the doorbell rings at her parents’ home and there, disheveled and slightly peculiar looking, Tara stands. It’s a miracle, but alarm bells are ringing for Peter. Tara’s story just does not add up. And, incredibly, she barely looks a day older than when she vanished.
The bad news is that I read it a month and a half ago and failed to jot down my reaction in the immediate aftermath. So things are a little hazy.
Like most reviewers I found it to be an enjoyable and interesting take on fairy tales as well as an exploration of memory and history. But it also seemed a little thin in places, particularly the fairy world, and even predictable in spots.
Allow me to cheat, as I am wont to do, and offer some snippets from other reviews in place of my own “deep thoughts.”
At the heart of Graham Joyce’s new novel, “Some Kind of Fairy Tale,” is a familiar, even shopworn, notion: That our everyday reality is not the only reality; that alongside this world there exists another, magical world. Call it fairyland. So far so bad, you might say, fearing a saccharine tale infested with petal-clad sprites. Joyce’s imagination, however, is far darker than that. “There is always a terrible and peculiar kind of accounting,” one character observes of the retribution carried out when the magical realm collides with our own. And Joyce’s fairy tale is one of dark and dangerous collision.
In this charming if occasionally overwrought drama, Joyce vividly depicts both the enchanted and the mortal terrain, making one as tangible as the other.
Joyce as a writer is a master charmer, and in general the glamour the author conjures up through the first three-quarters of the novel is mesmerising. His prose shines: the police searching for Tara are “out like blackberries in September”.
After a time, however, I began to feel that perhaps simultaneously too much and too little is going on. Readers suspicious of a slowly developing subplot involving Peter’s son and the old lady next door are right to wonder with unease if this element will eventually dovetail too neatly with Tara’s predicament. Worse, a threat to the real world from the fairy realm involving Hiero seems perfunctory and anti-climactic. The author may mean to de-glamorise the fairy world, but instead makes it boringly mundane; after a certain point, Hiero ought to wear a T-shirt reading “The numinous doesn’t live here any more”.
All this is excellently done; expertly grounded, suspensefully told. Joyce only stumbles in describing Hiero the horseman’s world. His people come across as promiscuous hippies, but they also have a bloodlust for gladiatorial combat and can ride bumblebees. If they’re not “little people with lacy wings,” then what exactly are they, other than dangerous? Hiero’s later transition from tenderhearted altruist to hostile stalker is especially jarring.
“Some Kind of Fairy Tale” is far from the only modern novel to riff on British folk tales about people seduced or abducted by fairies, although as Tara insists, the people she stayed with would never call themselves by that name. What’s remarkable about Joyce’s variation on the theme is its meticulous evocation of working-class rural life. Tara — who doesn’t especially care for life on the fairy homestead, with its poor housekeeping and extremely freewheeling sexual mores — views her old life as by far the more precious. This isn’t a dreamy or wonderstruck tale of magical happenings; instead, Joyce uses Tara’s time-lapse absence to reflect on the nature of youth and change.
“Some Kind of Fairy Tale,” with its chapter epigrams taken from sources as diverse as Albert Einstein, Bruno Bettelheim and the transcript of an 1895 murder trial, lifts up the mystery of time, the ephemeral and almost unearthly magic of youth, and turns it in the light to watch the facets play. Like Tara’s young/old face, it looks different every time to you see it, and it’s especially uncanny when you just catch it in the corner of your eye.
I think the WaPo review gets it mostly right with “charming if occasionally overwrought drama.” The exploration of past and present and its impact on both people’s life trajectory, but also how each character remembers and understands their past, is well done. The description, both past and present, life in the small town which acts as the setting is in many ways the novel’s strength.
The contrast between the rationalist explanation offered by the psychotherapist and the story that Tara weaves was an interesting approach; and to my mind forces the reader to think about what sort of story we want to be true. Which world do we think is “true” and which world do we wish was true? The cold rationalist one or the one where natural and supernatural brush up against each other?
As noted above, however, the fairy land elements and the interaction between Peter’s son and his neighbor seem flat and uninspired in many ways.
But, all in all, still an enjoyable read and certainly an imaginative take on fairy tales and folklore.