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An entertaining book which never quite balanced all of its elements
on 2 January 2013
**Minor Spoilers Implied**
Some Kind of Fairy Tale borrows liberally from British folk tales relating to the disappearance of young women, apparently taken by the fairies. In this instance the abductee, Tara, returns twenty years later, although she claims (and her appearance would suggest) that for her only six months have passed. Thereafter, the novel flits between Tara's fantastical tale, attempts to rationalise her experiences through psychiatry and the stories of those left behind.
Joyce digs deep into British mythology for his story, a fact underlined by the literary quotes and the reports of real-life encounters with the mystic that precede each chapter. The fairies of this tale owe less to Disney and more to A Midsummer Night's Dream. They're earthy, lusty free spirits with radical knowledge of physics but an unusual approach to ethics. This kind of folklore is fascinating and Joyce manages to capture some of this in a largely entertaining story with a genuinely poetic bent.
The tension between the fantastic and the mundane provide plenty of opportunity for Joyce to challenge the way in which our society works. His themes question the moral judgements that we all make in relationships, child rearing and the imposition of authority. Consequently, this is a charismatic book that is -on the whole- pretty engaging. I do, however, have gripes.
Around the core mystery, Joyce builds a series of thematically related plots. Some are very pertinent to the core narrative whilst others seem far more tangential. In particular, the strained relationship between Tara's adolescent nephew and his elderly neighbour falls into the second category. Some of the plot strands of the latter type don't resolve into the core plot or themes until very late in the novel. Given this, there are sections of the novel that drag being relatively unexciting unto themselves and apparently inconsequential overall. In fact, pace in general is a problem; the book is slow to start and then concludes very quickly.
The same divergence exists amongst the characters. Some are charming and easy to sympathise with (the ex-boyfriend whose life was put on hold by Tara's disappearance) whilst others are rather dull, feeling like cogs in the plot rather than properly realised characters. The main character, Tara, however, seems wilfully irritating. Admittedly, she is meant to be a sixteen year old, so should be expected to be headstrong and temperamental but this does not necessarily make her likeable. Perhaps we are meant to observe how her time away has changed her but I found her sometimes smug and, on at least one occasion, wantonly vengeful. For me, this left me unmoved by some of the major plot developments when asked to sympathise with her.
Finally, the text never gives a definitive answer as to whether the fae are real or an aspect of Tara's psychosis but it is pretty clear from early on where the author's preference lies. The lack of credence given to one side of the argument actually served to diminish some of the dramatic tension, making the core mystery somewhat redundant.
This is an interesting read that that is clearly well researched, constructed of delicate language and often entertaining. Too often, however, I was distracted by structural decisions made by the author that pulled me out of the text.