Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

A review of the magical realist novel Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce.

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Some Kind of Fairy Tale is what the title suggests. It’s about a family who are caught up in a strange story involving fairies, therapy, secrets, and resentment.

On Christmas Day, Peter gets a phone call from his dad saying that his sister Tara is at their house. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Tara has been missing for the past twenty years, and now she’s back she doesn’t look a day older and her only explanation for her absence is that the fairies took her away.

It’s a fairly simple unfolding of events—we learn the background to Tara’s disappearance, and follow the different characters as we see the effect of Tara’s return. The pace is gentle but steady, and I like that most of the main characters have a chance to show their voice and tell their side of the story. The blurb on my copy called it ‘a very English story,’ and there were some lovely descriptions of the countryside. I suppose the general down-to-earth tone could also arguably be described as English.

I was excited to read this book as I love a good fairy tale, and especially one set in the modern day, but I can’t help feeling like this book could have been so much more than its final result.

Tara finds it difficult to settle back into the human world and her human life, and there was a moment where it felt like Joyce was trying to make a comment about humans being complacent, willing to settle, and just accept what is given to them. But that comes in a throwaway comment, and isn’t an idea that’s explored or really shown in depth. The conflict comes from people not believing Tara’s story and not understanding how much she has changed, but even that isn’t very dramatic. A key moment where it becomes clear that Tara isn’t going to fit back into the human world is where she gets drunk, takes her top off, and starts a fight in a pub. This could have been really dramatic; very vivid, very emotive. But instead it’s relayed to us via a tertiary character we’ve never met before. There’s no punch to it. We’re not in Tara’s head, we’re not even there at the scene when it happens.

Each chapter has an epigraph, and many of them relate to Bridget Cleary, an Irish woman who, in 1895, was killed by her husband because he thought she was a changeling, a fairy imposter. Bridget was tortured for days and then set on fire. That’s the kind of comment on human nature a fairy tale is capable of making, a statement about the monstrous darkness humans hold without any magical or supernatural effort. But instead of going deep and dark, this book boils down to a trite ‘we eat too much junk food and watch too much junk telly’ cliché.

Alice Olivia Scarlett is a freelance editor. She lives in Thanet with the seagulls and parakeets.

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