From the low white walls and the church’s steeple,
From our little fields under grass or grain,
I’m gone away to the fairy people.
I shall not come to the town again.
Lord Dunsany, “The Fairy Child”
A handful of writers make up my “buy whatever they write” list and Joyce is one of them, along with people like Liz Hand and Clive Barker. The title of this one hooked me instantly, as fairy tales are kind of an obsession with me. I had the additional delight of speaking with Graham at Alt.Fiction about the “extremely dangerous fairy folk” as we should call them, because those who associate them with twinkly lights and tinkling laughs just don’t know the truth.
Be very sure: they are extremely dangerous.
The novel begins with Tara Martin showing up at her folks’ front door on Christmas day—after having disappeared twenty years ago. She’s disheveled and exhausted but she doesn’t look that much different from when she went missing two decades before. Her vanishing aged her parents and threw her older brother Peter into agonized spirals of despair. Tara’s old boyfriend, the perpetually adolescent musician Richie, seems frozen in time as well as brittle from all the suspicion heaped on his head.
“The modern superstition is that we are free of superstition.”
Everybody’s glad Tara’s back—initially. But then come their questions and her grudging acquiescence to their endless pokes of curiosity: she was away with the fairies. More or less—I’m not giving credit here to Joyce’s elegant reveal. Naturally, everyone doubts this revelation and the ways in which they cope with her insistence on the story play out beautifully as part of the characters Joyce has drawn with such care.
I was in agony all the way through the book, wondering how it would end. That’s perhaps the most exquisite suffering there is: wanting to rush to the conclusion, yet not wanting the story’s delights to end. The ending was perfect. I really can’t recommend this book enough. If you know fairy lore, every echo of the prose will delight, like the fact that Peter becomes a blacksmith and works with iron. Each chapter is headed with fantastic quotes from great minds, many familiar, some completely new gifts for me. This is one of those magical stories that captures something elusive and true.
As Tara says to Richie at one point, “Sometimes I think we are asleep; that we only a dream. When we sleep we get a chance to see what life is really like. That’s it. In our daily lives, we don’t know what it means to be fully conscious. And I don’t say I like it.”
Joyce captures the extraordinary nature of a traumatic event with precision. And the struggle of holding onto her experience echoes the similarly painful process of being a creator in the face of the world’s indifference. “The effort of maintaining a singular belief in the face of overwhelming opposition was exhausting. Tara could see how easy it would be simply to give way, to accept that she was deluded, to let the memory become a ghost and then to let the ghost fade.” Hers is a journey of heartbreak and joy you will find irresistible.
And you’ll never look at that carpet of bluebells quite the same.
Reviewed by K. A. Laity