Nothing like Tinkerbell
Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a gentler, sadder story (for adults) than The Tooth Fairy. Joyce writes about the world of myth and magic through very adult eyes indeed, and his fairy world (we are repeatedly told that the denizens of that world get very angry indeed at being referred to as fairies) are sometimes akin to angelic hordes, and sometimes seem to have more than a touch of the demonic about them.
The plot of this is simple. Tara, a young girl, not quite 16, living near Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, disappears. Fears of course are of abduction, kidnapping and murder. No body is ever found, but her family is broken and devastated. The lives of her parents are blighted, her brother Peter loses not only his beloved sister, but also his best friend Richie, Tara’s boyfriend, suspected by all and sundry (including the police) of having done away with Tara following an argument.
The book opens 20 years later, with a knock on the door – Tara has returned, looking no older than 18 at the most, and she has a tale to tell which no one believes.
Woven into Tara’s stories are erudite chapter beginnings involving quotations by some of the great and good who have made serious studies of the importance of myth and fairy stories from a wide ranging geography of cultures – Marina Warner, Bruno Bettelheim, Joseph Campbell, as well as literary writers such as Angela Carter, G.K Chesterton, and who used these stories to uncover the deep subconscious levels they allude to .
One such quoted chapter heading source is the following rather lovely comment from W.H. Auden
‘A fairy tale……………on the other hand, demands of the reader total surrender; so long as he is in its world, there must for him be no other’
The other woven story is that of a real trial which took place in Ireland, not that long ago, in 1895, where a young woman Bridget Cleary was tortured and burned by her husband, father, other relatives and neighbours, because they believed she had been stolen away by fairies and the woman now appearing to be Bridget was in fact a fairy changeling. Excerpts from the court transcripts are quoted. This is very far from twee.
Joyce, a serious writer with however a mordant and gleeful touch mixes together a story about ageing, memory, lost dreams, yearnings for a world of less ordinary meaning, the real wonder of the world we live in if we only wake from our dream, with these erudite writings and literary traditions from the fairy world.
As for that mordant gleefulness. Much humour is laced in around psychobabble – Tara submits to psychotherapy with a maverick hip practitioner, who nevertheless naval gazes wonderfully poking in the cauldron of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – a self-publicised Bible of mental health diagnosis, where anything remotely human can be rendered as pathology.
Further fun is had with Tara’s 13 year old nephew, very much in the middle of sulking hormonal adolescence, with more than a touch of the Adrian Moles about him. I never thought I would find a dead cat funny……………………….
I enjoyed this enormously and will certainly be making my way through more of Joyce’s canon of work.
My only slight reservation was of the importance of Richie in Tara’s story – it looked as if the relationship was on the out, through Tara’s wishes, when she disappeared, so the ain true love aspect (on her side) didn’t quite feel as potent as suggested