Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

Some Kind of Fairy Tale

a review by Nalini Haynes

This novel has been sitting in my TBR pile waving hello while I’ve been reading for interviews and all over the place.  I do like my fairy tales so I’m rather perplexed that it’s taken me this long to pick it up, but then I’ve been feeling like a hamster in a wheel (thanks for the analogy, Chasers).

Some Kind of Fairy tale opens on Christmas Day with Mary and Dell, a middle aged to elderly couple, sitting down to Christmas dinner together.  There is a fragility to the domestic scene; they’re papering over some deep sorrow.  Where are the children?  There is a knock on the door; upon answering it, Dell is called ‘Dad’ by a young woman he didn’t recognise.  Mary followed Dell to the door where she recognised the young woman and promptly fainted.

Peter, his wife and children, have eaten Christmas dinner and are recovering from the mayhem of such an event with 4 children and two dogs running amok.  The phone rings; Peter is the other child of Mary and Dell, summoned to this impromptu family reunion.  His anger bubbles to the surface quickly as we learn that Tara, Peter’s younger sister, went missing twenty years ago and has been presumed dead.

What follows is an exploration of the lives of this family, Tara’s former boyfriend Ritchie, Mrs Larwood the neighbour and Vivian Underwood the psychiatrist, who become entwined in this narrative.  Tara’s return ripples through their lives as they respond to this unexpected return.

The pacing and the style of storytelling is more akin to contemporary fiction than fantasy: a little along the lines of Diane Blacklock and Marian Keyes without the domesticity or prevailing feminine viewpoint, and a much shorter read.

Joyce begins his tale with the trope of the young woman abducted by fairies who then returns to her family, a person out of time.  Vivian Underwood, the psychiatrist, unpacks this trope, commenting on Tara’s knowledge of mythology and her deviations from classical fairy tale themes, bringing considerable depth to the narrative.  Underwood also casts doubt on the veracity of Tara’s story.  Underwood and Geraldine – Peter’s wife who is a trained psychologist – raise alternative explanations from a mental health perspective while engaging in partisan warfare in person and via proxy. Joyce clearly understands the factions and frictions in the mental health field.

Ritchie, Tara’s former boyfriend, was a suspect in Tara’s disappearance and presumed murder.  In an effort to avoid spoilers, I’ll restrict myself to two key points.  Firstly that the Joyce’s exploration of Ritchie’s experiences was well thought out, adding further realism to the tale.  Secondly, as I read Fairy Tale I recalled vividly the recent news reports implying – and comments on social media assuming – that Jill Meagher’s husband was a suspect in her disappearance, because ‘everyone knows’ that it’s usually the husband or boyfriend.  And ‘everyone knows’ that ‘helping the police with their enquiries’ means you’ve been pulled in for questioning as a suspect.  This gentle story contrasts people’s assumptions with the suspect’s experience.

Largely told in the third person from specific characters’ points of view, this narrative changes to first person periodically.  The first time this occurred was so far into the book I was jolted out of reading for a moment.  There are a number of first person points of view, [spoiler] then the final chapter specifically mentions that someone (the third person) is writing this narrative but it doesn’t mention whom.  This creates a dissonance between the third person and the first person points of view. [spoiler ends] 

Usually switches in first person point of view are annoying unless headings indicate the designated character as I spend paragraphs – or even a page or two – trying to figure out who is talking.  When flashbacks are involved this complicates matters further as I have to also figure out when the story is set.  Once I’ve figured that out, then I need to go back and reread that portion to follow the actual narrative.  In contrast Joyce has written each character so well that either the quote prefacing each chapter indicated who was speaking or the first sentence or two of the chapter revealed the identity of the character.  This transparency was achieved with a combination of topic and use of language.  The psychiatrist, for example, focused on his concern for Tara as Tara’s mental health professional, but his ‘speech patterns’ in the written narrative were also substantially different to the other first person point of view voices.  I am in awe of Joyce’s ability to assume varied voices in his narrative.

Varied points of view are particularly appealing in a narrative as the blind men with the elephant accurately describe the whole elephant when their dialogue is combined.  I love the unfolding of varied and disparate points of view carefully weaving a tapestry as Joyce has achieved so well here.

Fairy Tale is paced like contemporary fiction although it is a fantasy novel; as such I’d see it more akin to a (much shorter) version of Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens and not unlike Kate Elliott‘s Spirit Walker series.  I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Some Kind of Fairy Tale.

NOTES:  There is mention of sex including ‘fucking on the kitchen table’ but there aren’t explicit scenes that dwell on the sexual act.  It is obvious that Tara has a same-sex attraction to a nude woman, described in some detail.