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Mash-up fantasy, horror, comedic social commentary. And it works
on 22 December 2013
Graham Joyce's Tooth Fairy is a coming of age book in the same way as Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane is, or John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things. The genre is somewhere between horror and fantasy, but Joyce is using the power of fairy tale, myth and the shadow world to explore, with humour and with savagery the world of imagination, darkness and intensity which I suspect most of us were well aware of in childhood, and particularly in adolescence. However we are inclined to ring-fence, put away and talk ourselves out of remembering that world as we don sober suits, responsibilities and become owned by the world, rather than by our febrile imaginations.
Set in the Midlands, in the early 60s, the book follows the fortunes of a small group of friends Sam, Terry and Clive, later joined by the classier, horse-riding Alice, and by Linda, slightly older, much more sophisticated, striding into the uplands of sexuality way before the 3 boys she originally bosses and nannies.
Sam, aged 5, loses a milk tooth, and meets a Tooth Fairy. The Tooth Fairy is like nothing from Peter Pan. He/she/it is a sexual shapeshifter; feral, filthy, violent, alluring, murderous, vengeful, wounded, lost, tender, anarchic and comically, lethally, viciously destructive. The Tooth Fairy represents the dark, hidden, I-have-no-idea-what-is-going-to-happen-next-randomness of life. Only Sam (a perfectly normal and ordinary lower middle class boy, going through school, going through adolescence, meeting bullies, kind teachers and alcoholic psychiatrists) sees the Fairy, though occasionally others sense its presence.
So..........think a comic, inventive writer who can precisely get inside the heads of a group of young boys, but that writer also does not shy away from perfectly dark and horrific places in reality (suicide, violence, murder, drug abuse, sexual abuse). And that writer can come up with a cracking good narrative, and have the sharp, witty observation about a particular period in time and place similarly, for example, as Jonathan Coe does.
Joyce is a mash-up fantasy, horror, comedic social commentator of a writer, who creates real, utterly believable characters, and just twists their world, whilst maintaining the truthfulness of personality and psychology and the daytime reality we are familiar with.
This is a book for adults, not for children, even though the central characters are children, and young adults