The little girl inside is always excited by a fairy story. But Some Kind of Fairy Tale is not for little girls.
It’s been 20 years since 16-year-old Tara Martin disappeared from the woods near her family home. When she shows up for Christmas alive, strangely unchanged and unable to explain her absence, her family is torn between relief and anger. Eventually, Tara reluctantly tells them she’s been gone for just six months, after following a beautiful stranger deep into the woods. As the Martin family tries desperately to explain away her story, Tara struggles to re-enter a life that has moved on without her and a world that is mere shadow of all she’s experienced.
On its surface, Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce appears to be a mere fantasy story – with an idyllic, English countryside setting, a mysterious forest overflowing with bluebells and a beautiful, young girl spirited away on a white horse to a hidden world. In reality, that’s about as far as it goes. The book focuses on the people Tara left behind and her slow realisation that they’re not the only ones who’ve changed in the time she’s been away.
As the novel unfolds, we see the impact of Tara’s long absence and sudden return on her family and friends. There’s her older brother, Peter, who stubbornly struggles to find a rational explanation. There’s her former boyfriend, Richie – a budding musician whose life fell into ruin after he became the prime suspect in the police investigation into Tara’s disappearance and lost the centre of his world. The common thread is really the theme of loss – the unexplained loss of a loved one, the loss of childhood, the loss of hopes and plans.
Something that resonated with me was Joyce’s portrayal of Tara and the competing facets of her personality. Physically, she’s a teenaged girl – youthful and energetic, but she’s no longer a child. She sees a psychologist, Dr. Underwood, at her brother’s insistence and tries to be open to the possibility that there’s a mundane way to explain what happened to her. This in itself is an interesting aspect of the book – where Dr. Underwood attempts to psychoanalyse the hidden place Tara describes and the fairies that are simultaneously beautiful and wise, savage and hypersexual.
Through Tara, Some Kind of Fairy Tale captures that feeling of life moving forward without your control, of growing up and suddenly realising what was once comfortable and familiar isn’t enough any more. The people around Tara have aged but she’s the one who’s grown – exposed to things the mortal world could never imagine and a place of such brilliant that she’s left dazed and unable to connect with her old home.
So, is this a book worth reading? For me, it was – simply because I enjoy stories that introduce elusive and mysterious forces into the everyday world. Joyce is clearly an accomplished writer and he weaves his story with lovely images that slip effortlessly off the page. However, it’s very much focused on the psychology of the characters and the plot isn’t the kind that pulls you boldly towards the finish line. If you’re very into fantasy you may be disappointed as the fairytale theme, while ever-present, plays a supporting role in this book.
“You meet someone, you think about them. You’re already changing because of the way you think about them. You meet them again, you think about them some more, you’re changing again. And on it goes. You are changing right now. Before my eyes.”