Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Reading Nook: Some Kind Of Fairy Tale

I know, I know, I'm cutting it a bit fine with this month's Reading Nook but at least I'm getting it out before the month is officially over!  This month has felt incredibly long, I think it was the bank holiday weekend which always makes me feel as though I have had an entire week off - simply bliss.  I love the idea of constantly having three day weekends, but I'm not sure my bank balance could handle it...

This month's book felt suitably apt for spring time.  It's a familiar theme, and like most of my reading decisions, was influenced purely by the title (and the cover).  It's so pretty!  It also looks fairly spring time like, so when I felt the first hints of soft spring breezes and cherry blossom I picked this up off the shelf.  It's been there since Christmas when I was gifted it by my mother, so it's about time I read it.
I must admit I'm not familiar with the author, although I am keen now to sample more of his work.

Some Kind Of Fairy Tale is the story of a lost childhood, a found runaway and the damage caused when a broken family tries to heal itself.  In many ways it was very similar in style to one of my favourite books, The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Miller.  In both of these books fairies are not cute, not good (although possibly more misguided and drunk in New York than in Joyce's work), and you most certainly don't want your paths to cross with them.

In Joyce's world, the fairies are not little, don't have wings and can be mistaken for any ordinary person.  They also travel on horseback, crossing the borders between our world and theirs on specific nights of the year, live in 1970 style communes with no electricity or telephones, are constantly on heat and are fairly non-descript about who they satisfy that urge with and also bathe in a sentient lake that can can hear and understand you, and has the ability to orgasm.  There are living flowers that are disguised as bugs and living bugs that are disguised as flowers.   They fight to the death only to resurrect themselves a few days later and glory in the blood lust.  They appear wild and primitive to us but scorn humans for their abuse of nature and inability to live in harmony with the world around them.  They have no concept of the notion of time, apart from when it is possible to cross the border. 

It is this last fact that is so crucial to the story.

15 year old Tara Martin has an argument with her boyfriend, Richie, and storms away from him in the woods near her home somewhere in the heart of England in the 1980's.  She rests for a while in a patch of bluebells, and meets a stranger on a white horse.  Within moments she is hypnotised by this stranger and agrees almost instantly when he offers her a ride on his horse.  They talk and travel and he brings her to his home.  Once there she becomes uncomfortable and asks to go back as her parents will be worrying.  The stranger, Hiero (pronouced 'yarrow'), after being horrified when finding out how old she is, regretfully explains that this will be impossible for 6 months, until the border opens again.   Tara scorns this idea and spends the next few months attempting to find her way home, only to be foiled again and again.  She reluctantly serves her time, witnessing many strange things amongst the people she is staying with.  When Hiero finally returns her, six months later, she is shocked to discover that things have changed more than she expected when she comes back.

For everyone else she loves, 20 years have passed.

The story starts with Tara arriving on her parents doorstep on Christmas day, filthy, exhausted and seemingly not a day older than she left.  Her mother faints, her father calls her older brother, Peter, the town blacksmith, who now has a family of his own.  Tara's story about where she has been only incites anger and confusion in her family, who have mourned her murder for 20 years and blamed her then boyfriend and Peter's best friend for her death.   Tara's family is not the only one to have been affected.  Richie's life was effectively ruined by her disappearance as well, his music career failed and his friendship with Peter was destroyed.

Tara is sticking to her story, but finally agrees to see a psychiatrist.  We see her sessions with him through the psychiatrists eyes, including his notes on her behaviour and possible explanations for her amnesia and the world she has created.  By the end of her sessions we are no longer sure what is truth and what is fabrication as the psychiatrist maps out explanations for every story Tara tells.  The only thing that is harder to explain is Tara's unchanged appearance.  We are left questioning as to whether Tara is telling the truth, or whether her own subconscious is protecting her from a horrific trauma.
All we do know is that no family can just pick up where they left off 20 years ago.

There is a sub plot running through the book as well about Peter's son, the lady next door and a dead cat but in all honesty I found these sections much less engrossing than the main story line.

Prefacing each chapter were quotes from poetry, stories and folklore, including books I am familiar with from my degree such as Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber (a wonderfully dark and macabre retelling of familiar stories) and Bruno Bettleheim's The Uses of Enchantment, a psychoanalysis of fairy tales (ever wonder why Little Red Riding Hood's cape is red, instead of blue or green?) and a transcript from an trial in the 1800's where a man murdered his wife, believing her to be a changeling.

This story is familiar territory.  Changelings and stolen children have hovered on our consciousness for ages untold and is still as terrifying today as it was then.  Only a few weeks ago I saw a new production by the children of the Can On A String Theatre Company exploring this exact same fear.   Joyce also treats his fairies with the same level of respect as they were afforded prior to Disneyfication.  Another author who does this well is Raymond E Feist in his book Faerie Tale.  They are dangerous and menacing, not through what they will do through hate or malice, but through the concept that to love someone means to own and posses them.  They are greedy, selfish and perilously alluring.  There is a reason our ancestors were told not to play in the woods, not to enter a fairy ring and always carry an adder stone.

Tara should have remembered her lessons.

If you like (or hate!) what you have read, please do let me know in the comments below or slap me with a cheeky follow, or say Hi to me on my facebook group or twitter!


  1. But did you like it? Would you recommend?

  2. wow, neat story. I love book authors who make up such creative other-worlds. It's like I stand back and marvel over how creative they are to come up with all of this. Going to put this on my next "to read" list. Great review!

    1. Thanks very much and thanks for commenting! I hope you enjoy the book, let me know what you think of it!