‘No doubt we shall have to sit there all bloody evening listening to some awful drivel about fairies.’ – William Heaney
Thousands of people go missing every year in the world. Some of them might never come back, but those that do, after a long or short period of time, have different stories to tell about what happened to them. A lot of them are quite straightforward, but others will remain a mystery forever.
Christmas Day for the Martins was about to be pretty much the same as every other year since their children left the house. Until, that is, Mary and Dell Martin get an unexpected visitor who might as well be a ghost. It is their daughter, Tara, who vanished without a trace twenty years ago. It felt like an eternity of anguish and unanswered questions for her parents and her brother, Peter. For the Martins, it was a long twenty years, for Tara it was a mere six months, or so she believes. Regardless of the length of the time, she disappeared one day and left everyone in despair and in fear of what could have really happened to her. Now that Tara is back, it is difficult for her family to deal with it. On one hand they don’t want to know what happened as they are relieved to see her alive, on the other hand, they need answers.
Peter was always close to Tara and losing her turned his life upside-down, but in the process of growing up and having a family of his own, this sudden arrival makes him angry and resentful, rather than delighted to see his baby sister. However, it’s not only Tara’s appearance that causes concerns but also her story about what happened to her and why she left without a word.
A fifteen-year-old Tara walks in to the Outwoods, the local woods, and disappears. She claims she met a young handsome man on a white horse, who after talking to her, invited her to his place. After a dramatic argument with her boyfriend, Richie, she is keen on a new adventure – if only till she figures out what she really wants. The stranger leads her through the forest and its intoxicating sea of bluebells, where they ride until dusk and suddenly end up at a strange lake. Here the story really begins.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a beautifully told story of loss, uncertainty, love and the supernatural world just next door to where we live. This is not the first time I have read this book. I tend to come back to it, as it’s a book which haunts you and lures you back to flick through the pages filled with clashing worlds of folklore stories and a seemingly normal pragmatic life. Once Tara reveals what happened to her she is treated as a victim of some kind of trauma prior to her disappearance. Different characters in the book voice their opinions on Tara’s story – as different as they might be, their common denominator is that her story can’t be true. It cannot be true because no one believes in fairies, not even those nymphomaniac fairies that live all together in one loving and harmonious community.
Graham Joyce’s writing is intelligent, complex and imaginative. That’s what really makes this story so delightful and enthralling. He managed to make Tara’s story believable, with the supernatural world intricately woven into our world, and at the same time easily discredited by plausible psychiatric diagnoses. The characters are remarkable and full of quirky qualities which make all of them so vivid and distinctive. The descriptions in Some Kind of Fairy Tale are enchanting and captivating – reading the book, I really badly wanted to go out into the woods to experience the tranquillity, magic and the intoxicating smell of the bluebells.
Loss, or rather dealing with loss, is one of the main aspects in the book; and as much as they all try to come to terms with it, the dynamic of it affects the relationships in a major way. The friendship between Peter and Richie is one of them. Besides Tara, Richie is probably the most complex character in the book. Being Tara’s boyfriend at the time she went missing put him in a difficult situation and froze his life at that moment. Unable to have an adult life, he is a diluted version of his younger self-obsessed with his music and Tara. Love is another crucial aspect of the book; love, and its multiple layers and convoluted ties it creates between the people. This is one of the ideas in the book that really moved me – how one person loved in a different way by many people can either bring them together or divide them.
The plot is intriguing and superbly written. The world of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is built on a difficult ground of people’s believes and disbelieves in the supernatural. The characters smoothly drive the story in the directions which they trust are right. What I like about them is that they can easily make the reader change their mind as to what they are prepared to believe in. In the book, the idea of fairies inhibiting the world is dissected and analysed through people’s perceptions of what could be true or false, and the difficult aspect of trying to understand the intangible proofs that there might be a possibility that the supernatural might have a place in an almost surgically sterile world, where what is believed in has to be scientifically feasible. Graham Joyce prefaced each chapter with a quote about fairy tales, fairies and folklore which adds a little more insight as to why folklore and fantasy are a part of human perception of the supernatural. One of the quotes, which prefaces my review, is by William Heaney – a.k.a. Graham Joyce who published another great book, Memoirs of a Master Forger, under that name.
Graham Joyce in his unique way of writing, apart from creating the perfect story on its own, gives the reader enough thinking space to fill in the gaps between the lines. His storytelling is effortless and ingenious. He is one of my favourite writers and of course I can give lots of reasons why, but one of the main reasons is that his books make you think laterally about life and the things people face every day. His gift is that his writing sometimes removes and sometimes just obscures the boundaries between the world of reason and the supernatural. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is an extraordinary book which doesn’t let you stop for a break – the reader just feels compelled to read on and find out what happens next. To see if what initially was thought to be an illusion turns out to be true or the other way round.
If you love books which flawlessly erase visible lines between fantasy and reality then Some Kind of Fairy Tale, or any other of Graham Joyce’s books is what you are looking for.
Author: Graham Joyce
Title: Some Kind of Fairy Tale
Publisher: Gollancz (UK)
Published: March 14, 2013 (UK)
Review originally published on Fantasy-Faction website.