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on 21 April 2006
In Fern Cullen, the story's narrator, Graham Joyce has found a heartwarming and realistic voice. The story is about Fern and her adoptive "Mammy" who live on the outskirts of a village in the 1960's. They are slightly outside of society because they practise the old arts of hedgerow medicine. The pair have in many ways been left behind by time but they are largely left in peace by the villagers until one of Mammy's potions goes fatally wrong. Joyce's descriptions of Mammy's herbal concoctions and their uses are well researched and believable. Fern battles with her own doubts about the magic they perform. When Mammy is taken ill, Fern is thrust into the real world of 1960's Britain. In some ways she is very innocent in the ways of the world and yet this is in contrast to the ways of the sage which she has learned from Mammy.

As a reader you warm to the plight of Fern but Joyce does not let the character or his readers down with this fine book.
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on 11 October 2012
I wasn't sure what to expect when I began reading this novel, fairytale or village gossip I thought? It is the story of family, old traditions and a coming of age for Fern, adoptive daughter to Mammy, the " wise woman" of a rural community in the 1960's. Not wanting to add any spoilers as other reviewers have done justice to this story I would just like to say how much I enjoyed it. For me, the initial attraction was Mammy as I myself was raised by my granny who practised the art of hedgerow medicine and was herself an Irish gypsy traveller so I was keen to see how this compared. It was quite wonderful, very moving in parts and enlightening for me to see other perspectives on this situation and how others reacted to this pair. Mr Joyce has obviously done his homework as I could relate to so many things within this story; the wariness of the villagers who come into contact with Mammy, their isolation and particularly the difficulties and sometimes lonliness which Fern feels being associated with her Mammy. I too was raised in the 60's and this is so acurate in its portrail of the inhabitants and their old fashioned beliefs. Its an unusual tale but so well done by this talented author it lead me to read other works he has written and I recently finished Some Kind of Fairytale which was superb so I would say, if you are unsure, give this a try, you might surprise yourself and learn something of the old arts along the way, fabulous!!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 December 2009
Set in the mid 1960s, this book also harks back to English paganism and the age-old history of witchcraft. In the rural backwater where Fern lives with Mammy, who is not her birth-mother but with whom she has a great bond, the community is about to be invaded by a colony of hippies, who bring their dissolute life-style with them and divide the opinions of local gentry and villagers alike. There is trouble afoot from the moment Mammy is forced into hospital, leaving Fern vulnerable, not just to the hippies, but to the semi-hostile intent of almost everyone else. Mammy is an (unregistered) midwife and a known procurer of abortions for unlucky girls who have been `caught'. She is also a kind of pagan witch, who has knowledge of white magic. And Fern knows most of her secrets.

The mystical moments in this novel are handled with faultless assurance and delicacy and Fern, the narrator throughout, is honest about both her unwillingness to believe in her legacy, and the events that lead her into a kind of belief. Vulnerable and powerful, both, she has to find a way to compromise with the world around her, which she does - in the end. But there are dangers and antagonisms to be overcome first.

Effortlessly straddling both ancient and modern belief systems, Joyce's book is a total delight. A hypnotic read from the first page to the last.
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on 26 February 2016
Graham Joyce draws a very convincing portrait of a rural community in 1966 with many endearing and outspoken characters, full of rugged charm and rough witticisms. Fern and her mammy Cullen are particularly vivid characters and the reader would find it difficult not to be drawn to these outspoken , courageous and determined women. But I did find the novel lacked purpose. We are led to believe that Jane's death after her miscarriage will trigger an unexpected chain of events. And it is there the novel somewhat fails. Once Jane has died and mammy Cullen is in hospital Fern soldiers bravely on but by and large nothing much happens and we are left with her trying not to lose the cottage and coming to terms with whether she'll follow mammy Cullen and become a wisewoman herself. I thought there would be much more to the story. It is however a very charming narrative, spry and refreshing and is therefore worth reading.
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on 19 May 2012
Fern has been raised by the village midwife, Mammy, assisting at births since her early teens and catching glimpses of Mammy's magic as she prepares folk remedies for those who don't quite trust the NHS. But when a young girl who has visited Mammy for help dies soon afterwards, scandal and gossip runs rife in the village, and Mammy's own health goes into rapid decline. Fern is left to cope with her grief over Mammy, the prospect of eviction, and the discovery of her own gifts and calling; but who can she trust to help her through?

Although it sounds trite in synopsis, 'The Limits of Enchantment' is surprisingly engaging and thought-provoking in the telling. The style is easy to read but the characters are complex and wholly believable, and there are no easy answers to the questions posed. Set in the 60s, old-school superstition is pitched against advancing scientific knowledge and shifting social norms so that Fern's coming of age is reflected as the coming of age of an era. And while it is a story technically about witchcraft, it is as much about the reading of people and situations as anything supernatural. Nonetheless, the story is magical.

I first read this story some years ago and wanted to see if it stood the test of time. At first I was afraid I had stumbled into an ordinary, vacuous village tale, but my only disappointment turned out to be reaching the end. Despite a lightweight facade, Joyce proves that simplicity can indeed be deceptive.
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on 9 March 2014
Love Graham Joyce. The best writer I have come across...ever! This was the second book I'd read of his, I'm now staring my fourth (and have ordered another two!) and I'm not bored of his story telling, if anything I'm more excited!
He's very original, each book is different from the last, the characters are well put together and described. There's always something interesting happening. Me, as a busy working mother with very little time, his books are great to pick up for a while and keeps you hanging on for the next instalment. Just brilliant!!
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Beautiful prose. The tale is told from the point of view of the daughter of Mammy, a Leicestershire wise woman. It segues from her life with Mammy to her clash with authority effortlessly, with a dash of the supernatural scattered throughout.
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on 10 March 2013
A bellarmine jar of witchery-pokery, this was a pleasant surprise. Joyce has been on my radar for a while, but I've only got around to reading one of his award-winning oeuvre. This is an enchanting tale of village witchcraft - set in an amusingly prosaic paradigm - fear and midwifery in the East Midlands. The novelist's genius is that he both manages to deconstruct and re-enchant 'the Craft' - hedging his bets with psychological realism and intriguing 'moments' of mystery. Setting it in the Sixties (an iconic and iconoclastic time of pop culture magic) enhances the effect - a sense one could still capture the last glimmers of a fading way of life - an evanescence like a slow sunset of dirty fire. Joyce has a deceptively 'light' style which makes for an easy, amusing read. He is a master of his art - creating complex, distinctive characters, crisp dialogue, a cunning plot, and a real magic rarely found in 'Fantasy' books. This is a book with mud on its boots and dirt under its fingernails - combining the earthiness of this authentic microcosm with miniskirts, trippy hippies, small-minded provincial life, and obscure local customs, this makes for a charming read.
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on 29 March 2014
This is the second novel of Joyce's that I've read, the first one being The Tooth Fairy. The themes are similar; coming of age, loss, and a rapidly changing English Midlands. I'm not aware of any other writer who mixes the real and the supernatural as effortlessly as this, and so far he has managed to keep me desperately turning the pages to find out what happens next. Wonderfully written, well crafted books and I'm about to start on my third.
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on 16 February 2015
Following Fern is a journey from childhood to womanhood, from the past to modernity. En route we are taken through folklore, humour and tragedy; learning a little more about humanity and the nature of love as we go along. Beautifully written.
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