Some Kind of Fairy Tale might just be the most apt title for any book published this year (or ever, for that matter). Because Graham Joyce’s latest novel is exactly what its title describes it to be. This is the first encounter I’ve had with any of Joyce’s work, and it did not leave me wanting. His worked generally being well reviewed, it was my interest in the slightly unusual plot description that led me to pick up Some Kind of Fairy Tale. Drawing heavily on traditional folklore, and a strong sense of setting, Joyce builds an entrancing tale of family, life and contradicting realities.
It is Christmas afternoon and Peter Martin gets an unexpected phone call from his parents. It pulls him into a bewildering mystery.To delve into Some Kind of Fairy Tale is, before all, to delve into an atmosphere – that of misty woods, mystery and magic. Graham Joyce begins his tale by issuing a warning about the nature of the narrator (namely his unreliability), instigating an uncanny sentiment that sticks with the reader until the end of the novel. From the moment Peter learns that his sister Tara has (magically) reappeared on his parents’ doorstep and first confronts her, there’s always a sense of something intentionally off about the story or how its being told.
His sister, Tara, has come back home. Not so unusual you might think, this is a time when families get together. But twenty years ago Tara took a walk into the woods and never came back, and as the years have gone by with no work from her the family has, unspoken, feared she was dead. But now she’s back, tired, disheveled, but happy and full of stories about twenty years spent traveling the world, an epic odyssey taken on a whim.
But her stories don’t quite hang together and the intervening years have been very kind to Tara... She really does look no different from the young woman who walked out of the door twenty years ago. Peter’s parents are just delighter to have their little girl back, but Peter is not so sure. There is something about her. A haunted, otherworldly quality. Some would say it’s as if she’s off with the fairies.
And as the months go by Peter begins to suspect that the woods around their homes are not finished with Tara and his family...
Initially, it’s Tara’s appearance. How strange it is, for the other characters, that she looks no older than she did when she was last seen, more than a decade ago. Then there is another character’s belief that he is being followed. And then, there’s clearly something that does not make sense about Tara’s cover story – and the fairy tale she final admits to is even more unbelievable. Despite it being slightly unsettling, there’s a greater element of allure to Joyce’s storytelling, what with the tinges of magic, and strong sense of family. He’s a writer of the best kind, one whose prose melts into the background, leaving the characters and story in the foreground.
It’s that the writing is unobtrusive that enables the charm and magic of story to come forth. This is, after all, a fairy story (or close enough). One should mention, though, that these are by no means your run-of-the-mill fairies. Joyce has derived much of the mythology for Some Kind of Fairy Tale from classic English folklore, but he has added his own twist to it. The most glaring change is a decidedly more adult portrayal of the fairies than what most of us will remember from our childhood. These fairies are unashamedly erotic, living their sexuality to the fullest in a procession of nude rituals and orgies. In spite of this, Some Kind of Fairy Tale manages to hang on to the innocence that was ever present in the tales that inspired it. It makes the novel endearing.
Joyce splits the narrative into a number of segments, told in parallel. The main one is of course the ‘present’ narrative in which the characters struggle to make sense of Tara’s situation, including the very entertaining – not to mention fairly intriguing – sessions with a very eccentric psychiatrist to try and unravel the truth. Then there is the retelling of Tara’s time spent with the fairies. This segment is eventually replaced by the psychiatrist’s running analysis of Tara’s mental health. Eventually, despite extremely solid beginning and middle parts, the plot sort of loses appeal as different elements of the story too easily come together. There’s disappointment to be had with the closing of the novel as the denouement somewhat falls short – anti-climactic, though not entirely unsatisfying.
Regardless of these mixed feelings with the ending, on the whole Some Kind of Fairy Tale deserves to be read, especially by those with a soft spot for the fairy-folk. But more so, it deserves to be read because Joyce has provided us with a pleasant interpretation of what a modern fairy tale would be – with darker tones to satisfy the harshness of modernity – and done so with some very fine writing form. If nothing else, it makes a change from other genre reads and might just provoke a reflective thought or two about the subject matter. And dare I say, a bit of nostalgia. Some Kind of Fairy Tale is out now in UK (Gollancz) and the US (Doubleday).
Graham Joyce's Website: http://www.grahamjoyce.co.uk/
Buy Some Kind of Fairy Tale:
Some Kind of Fairy Tale: A Novel
Some Kind of Fairy Tale