Cover to Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce: Review

To be honest, I got the wrong idea about Some Kind of Fairy Tale. I got the idea it was going to be an urban fantasy novel. I don’t know how; it makes no claims to be. In fact, I’m not sure I would call Some Kind of Fairy Tale a fantasy novel at all. At first I was disappointed but, once I recovered, I really enjoyed this book.

The modern superstition is that we’re free of superstition.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale‘s premise is that Tara was sixteen when she disappeared twenty years ago. Now she’s come back, looking not a day older than when she left, and claiming she’s been living with fairies for only six months. Her family and her old boyfriend now have to try to assimilate her back into their lives, and a psychiatrist has to determine what really happened to her. Because, of course, no-one believes her.

The thing is, when everyone is trying to persuade you that a thing you know to be true isn’t actually true, you start to believe them: not because it is true but because it’s easier. It’s just the easy way out.

Joyce has a way with a turn of phrase and he writes with a charming simplicity. Not in the sense that he uses small words but that he doesn’t beat around the bush. If there’s something he wants you to know, he tells you (or shows you). If there’s something he doesn’t want you to know, he makes that clear too. So the point of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is not the mystery of what happened to Tara. This is more of a character study. The different reactions to when someone you mentally buried (in the absence if a body) reappearing after twenty years, and what that does to a person.

Sometimes that simplicity of style does offer some jarring moments, some non-sequiturs as Joyce hauls dialogue or prose towards where he wants to be, which is usually a pithy line. But, on the whole, his writing is comfortable and comforting; his surety with language lets you know you’re in safe hands.

He said he preferred to feel the earth sing through his feet, and that shoes stopped you from hearing the song of the earth.

I said that I wasn’t sure if Some Kind of Fairy Tale was a fantasy novel. It does have a strong element of the fantastic to it: Tara actually relates some of her time with the fairies. I can confirm Joyce knows his fairy folklore (he even quotes Katherine Briggs), and he paints an intriguing picture of the Otherworld. A deep connection to a natural world unknown to us, a very physical and sexual spirituality, charts and maps that reveal a comprehensive understanding of the world.

But there is a question as to whether any of this is real. Some Kind of Fairy Tale also proffers the possibility that Tara’s narrative is an invention to cover some kind of psychological trauma. This is why I’m not sure I’d class it as fantasy; our only glimpse of the otherworldly is via Tara’s recollection. And both possibilities are given equal weight and credence; Tara’s family support the psychological explanation, but her still-youthful appearance supports the fantastical.

Jack had spotted something in the woods, as had the dogs. Someone had been watching him. But to reveal who had been watching him would be to reveal who has been telling you this story all along. And, as you were advised earlier, everything depends on that detail.

The ambiguity of Some Kind of Fairy Tale is perhaps the reason I enjoyed it so much. Some people hate ambiguity, but I think it’s great. It allows two conflicting stories to co-exist, simultaneously. As Neil Gaiman once wrote, nobody remembers the secret; it’s the mystery that endures.

If you’re looking for an urban fantasy with concrete answers, this isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for a well-written, character-driven story that mixes fantasy, psychiatry and ambiguity, Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a book I can absolutely recommend.

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