This evening I heard the sad news that Graham Joyce had died. Although I came to his books fairly recently, he'd become an author whose new books I'd always be waiting for. It was a shock to learn last year that he was ill and, though I never knew him other than as a reader, I am sad at his death:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
So, as an inadequate tribute, here is a review of one of Graham's books, Some Kind of Fairy Tale (Gollancz, 2012). If you haven't read the book, you should.
A few months ago, a Channel 4 series ("Gods and Monsters") presented by
Tony Robinson (of Time Team and Baldrick fame) examined the history of
superstition. It told the story of Bridget Clary. In 1895 she was
murdered by her husband, who believed she was a changeling, that is, not
his wife at all - the real Bridget having been stolen by the fairies.
Graham Joyce's novel uses this theme, postulating a similar "abduction"
in 21st century England. There is a strong and intriguing opening, when
Tara Martin knocks on her parents' door just after Christmas. Tara
disappeared 20 years ago at the age of 16, and it was assumed that she
was murdered in the mysterious Outwoods. When she reappears, insisting
that she has only been absent for six months, and she doesn't seem to have
aged a day, there are challenges for everyone - her now elderly parents,
her brother Peter who has "grown up" since, and her ex boyfriend, upon
whom suspicion fell. The book deals with the consequences of the
Joyce weaves together Tara's own story of her
experience (white horse, seductive young man, strange, fey land which
she cannot get out of) with a very matter-of-fact account of everyday
life for the left behind (work, pubs, children, casual police
brutality). He grounds the comings and goings to the mysterious
otherworld very credibly in a specific English locality, the Charnwood
forest, where three counties meet (so, a border place - good for
crossing into the Otherworld) which overlies a geological fault. (Those
interested in "Earth mysteries" sometimes speculate that spooky
experiences may be linked to the influences of gases and vapours seeping
up from below ground, as with the oracle at Delphi. Equally, of course,
those "stolen" away were thought to be somehow taken underground).
is done very well. Joyce creates well drawn and believable
characters, and the plotting is excellent: I sat up well past midnight
to finish this, I simply couldn't stop till I found out how it would
finish (without giving too much away, there's a delicious sense that it
might NOT have finished).
The chapter headings recount various
scraps of lore concerning "fairies" (though we're advised not to call
them that - they don't like it) including the tale of the unfortunate
Bridget. I smiled to see Joyce introduce thoughts from William Heaney
among these. Heaney, also known as Graham Joyce, was the "author" of Memoirs of a Master Forger
and the reference - passing though it is - is appropriate in this book,
with its themes of truth and falsehood, and how we judge them. (Bridget
died because of the accusation that she had "visited" the fairies,
though she says she hadn't: Tara suffers because she claims she has,
though nobody will believe her).
In all, this is the best book I've read so far this year.
(Review originally published on Amazon.co.uk, 28 January, 2012.)