Book Review: Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
Fifteen-year-old Tara Martin disappeared without a trace on a beautiful spring day when the bluebells were all in bloom. Twenty years later, on Christmas Day, Tara knocks on her parents’ door, still looking like a teenager and with a strange tale to tell. Tara’s reappearance causes relief, joy, and turmoil for the family she left behind, as well as for her former boyfriend Richie, whose life went completely off the rails after he was accused of foul plan in Tara’s disappearance.
Tara’s return is not, perhaps, as she expected:
Twenty years is, after all, a long time. We are not the same people we were. Old friends, lovers, even family members: they are strangers who happen to wear a familiar face.
Tara tells an impossible tale, of a romantic man on horseback, travels to a different world, and what to her was a six-month stay in a land both strange and beautiful. Tara’s brother Peter is determined to figure out the truth of what happened to Tara, and enlists the aid of his wife, his former best friend Richie, and a retired psychiatrist to sift through the conflicting threads of her story.
Graham Joyce is a gifted writer whose words and tempo are lilting and lovely. He has a talent for taking the every day and making it mysterious, adding a rhythm to the routine occurrences within a family that bring in the larger world and its unknowability. Characters are sharply drawn and defined, including Peter, a tired but devoted family man, passionately in love with his wife, hurt by the loss of his friend, joyful yet resentful of Tara’s return; Mrs. Larwood, the elderly neighbor who may in fact have her own tale to tell; and Richie, stuck in the past, alone and loveless, having put his life on hold once Tara disappeared.
I had expected Some Kind of Fairy Tale to be a more or less traditional tale of a mortal crossing over into the land of the fae. As it turns out, it is and it isn’t. The changing points of view within the story heighten the mystery, and make it impossible to come to any one particular conclusion — although the end of the story certainly made one explanation seem more likely than others.
Each chapter begins with a quote, and I found these entirely delightful, so much so that I’d like to collect them all and refer back to them time and again. A favorite: “When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.” (Albert Einstein)
The author’s previous novel, The Silent Land, is one of the most exquisite pieces of fiction I’ve ever read. Some Kind of Fairy Tale did not have the same impact on me and I wouldn’t rate it quite as highly, but it is quite lovely in its own right and I can recommend it whole-heartedly.
Graham Joyce warns us of the shifting nature of the narrative and the truths contained therein early on:
Of course, everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does.
It’s entirely possible that I don’t entirely understand what really transpired in this haunting tale. Then again, maybe we’ll all understand it differently, and I think that’s as it should be.