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LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. Read it Forward Read it first. Pass it on! Stay in Touch Sign up. We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please try again later. Perhaps it is. Some Kind of Fairy Tale reminds me of Jo Walton's Among Others , the common thread being that both books are about worlds in which British folklore is true, and that they both advance the idea that magic is real, that it exists behind a thin veil and all we need do is penetrate it once or push it aside and a whole other realm comes rushing at us.

A 16-year-old girl vanishes, then turns up 20 years later, looking not much older. What happened?

This is a terribly alluring idea: perhaps the entire genre of fantasy is founded on the fact that, sometimes, modern humans just want a little more superstition in their lives. But I feel like, once you've become a mature reader, a book that whispers—nay, shouts—to you, "Fairies are real! How clever. Of course, Joyce does have his own twist to this, er, Kind of Fairy Tale. The book is, effectively, three hundred odd pages worth of twists and turns that simultaneously try to seduce us with the magic behind the veil thesis and to convince us, conversely, that Tara is lying: that she never went to fairyland at all but was the victim of some terrible trauma and so invented a magical history to cover up her pain.

Joyce provides numerous chances for us to explain Tara's episode as a confabulation, by having Tara visit a psychiatrist and making whole chapters out of the psychiatrist's notes. We are given every way possible out of believing Tara. The psychiatrist writes enormous passages that break down, in mythological terms, every encounter that Tara has during her passage through fairyland for example, equating the sexually rampant fairy "Ekko" with the word "echo," the character Ekko being the metaphorical echo of Tara's own repressed sexuality during her time in fairyland.

In so doing, Joyce preempts any attempt the reader might make to use psychological metaphors to doubt Tara's magical experience. He encourages us to be doubters—and in so doing, he demands that we be believers. I can't help but believe that Joyce's employment of a psychiatrist and whole chapters of psychoanalysis has exactly this point: that we must believe Tara's account. There really is no way, within the text, to doubt Tara sanely: there are far too many other events in the story that indicate that fairyland is enormously real. Physical tests prove that Tara really is only fifteen; a fairy follows her back to the real world and assaults her boyfriends; another woman has also been to fairyland and confirms Tara's story.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

There is no way a reader can believe that, in the world Joyce is describing, fairyland is anything but real. And yet he persists, to the very end, in trying to convince us that we do not know what is being said or what might really be. Indeed, he uses a few key passages at the beginning and end of the book to suggest that, at its heart, not just the psychoanalysts, but even the narrator is unreliable:.

Everything depends on who is telling the story. It always does. I have a story and though there are considerable parts I've had to imagine, the way I saw it was as follows. This attempt to suggest to the readers that the narrator is unreliable is ridiculous, since we never learn who the narrator really is; and since the narrator is omniscient by way of his or her imagination anyway, we don't have any data as readers to sort through the mystery and come to any conclusion other than the only one that is possible by the very bare facts of the text: Tara really went to fairyland.


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An unreliable narrator is a nice technique when the reader can suss out the narrator's biases; but this narrator has no actual existence, no actual biases. The narrator is Joyce, and Joyce wants to be unreliable because he wants to make his text obscure. It's not clever, but it is posing as cleverness; it is not esoteric, but it wants to sound esoteric. I'm not sure if this happened by accident, or if Joyce realized his story was banal and wanted to poke the reader a little to spice it on up.

Either way, it was groan-inducing. Hopefully by now you haven't forgotten that I also wrote that there is an interesting problem with this book. We've only just now come through to the other side of all the obvious problems; and though they are weighty, they never actually struck me as powerfully as the following realization.

The defect of this book is really that Joyce is a fantastic writer who wrote the wrong book. Joyce's characters are expert, his prose flawless. All the magical waffle in this book is not very stimulating, but by contrast, by far the most moving part of this whole book was a subplot about Jack, the son of Tara's brother. Jack accidentally kills his neighbor's cat, and struggles to find a way to keep that knowledge from her even as he feels guilty and wants to help replace the cat.

It was an incredibly moving story, and it had nothing to do with magic.

Telling Tall Tales? Graham Joyce's 'Some Kind of Fairy Tale'

It was deep and meaningful and it made my heart ache; it made me think of all the times we've done something we quickly realized was wrong or hurtful or terrible, and how it can be nearly impossible to face up to our own responsibility for that pain. I was totally enraptured. In the end, of course, this subplot is really just a means to an end, a complex route to a revelation that confirms Tara's story. Joyce designs it to meld into the rest of the story which explains why none of the other secondary characters had their own tales.

But it never melded completely for me, because it so far surpassed Tara's story. I think this book would have been infinitely more powerful if it really were possible that Tara had suffered some kind of trauma and so made up her entire fantastical experience.

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If it had been possible, then I as a reader would have rooted for fairyland. I'm no different from any other fantasy reader, after all: I want the magic to be real. And if Joyce had sown doubt more effectively, and more thoroughly raised the possibility that Tara was suffering psychological trauma, I would've lusted after that magical place where everything is beautiful and otherworldly, and I would've trusted Tara and wanted to believe her with all my heart. Instead, the reality of magic is rather unsubtly hammered into our heads.

On top of this, Tara is not really an interesting character.


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Maybe it's because, ultimately, she's wholly defined by her experience in fairyland; she has no hobbies or interests or even any real status as an actor in the story, because she's constantly wrapped up in telling a story and a story founded on Joyce's thesis, to boot. She ends up as a sort of mouthpiece. And since what comes out of her mouth is constantly confirmed by the narrator who is also, paradoxically, ridiculously, cast as unreliable , I ended up hating Tara and everything fairyland stood for. Graham Joyce has obviously steeped himself in fairy-tale lore, and his attention to detail and to the significance of those details is pretty astonishing.

But what really makes Some Kind of Fairy Tale stand head and shoulders above most other fantasy novels I've read lately is the strong focus on the characters.

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Joyce's slow, careful narrative style draws you in to a story that's as much a family drama as it is a magical adventure. During that time, everybody decided she was dead — and in fact, the police were convinced that Tara's boyfriend Richie had murdered her. The return of Tara, alive and well, brings out a lot of conflicting emotions in her family and Richie — including some anger at the notion that all this time they thought she was dead, and she was just gallivanting around. We, the readers, are never in much doubt that Tara has been taken by fairies — because Joyce is a fantasy author and we are alert to the genre cues that he throws in.

There's never really a plausible alternative that explains why Tara has miraculously come back looking the same age as when she left, twenty years earlier. But it's to Joyce's credit that he doesn't really try to play the "ambiguity" card, or make the reader think that Tara is likely to be making things up. Instead, he takes a much more subtle tack — showing us how a bunch of different characters view what's happened to Tara.

In a sense, we get to see Tara's disappearance and reappearance through the prism of several different viewpoints. There's Tara's brother Peter, who hates her for her disappearing act, but slowly comes to become something more like her surrogate father. There are Tara's parents, who are initially so overjoyed to have her back, they don't want to ask questions — and then they start realizing how hard it actually is to have her back.

And there's Richie, her ex-boyfriend, who has basically been pining for her, for the past twenty years. And then, perhaps most interestingly, there are the notes by the psychologist that Peter sends Tara to. Vivian Underwood attempts to deconstruct Tara's story, so that first we hear the events as Tara relates them, and then we see Vivian's exegesis, in which he tries to pull apart the meaning of them.