Monday, 24 September 2012

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

I've reveiwed this novel for The Zone. I enojyed this one quite a bit: it was multi-layered and emotionally complex, and it used the super-natural intelligently. I particularly liked the clever way that sub-plots articulated the theme of the importance of fantasy - that was very cleverly done.

I liked the book and it's a positive review, but there were things I didn't like about the book. The review gently chides Joyce over the fantasy theme (I think the quotations over-egged the pudding) but I didn't end up mentioning my main problem with this book. I wasn't a small thing either - although on the whole I think it's a good book, comfortably 4 stars - and so you might think it would be worth mentioning.

In the end however, I couldn't make it work and the reason why is a small lesson in reviewing.


The problem for me was the ending. It felt like the easy option to me and wasn't a fitting climax to the tensions that were building up. Reading that back it sounds pretty fatal and that's reason number one for why I didn't mention it: any way that I wrote my problem with the ending out came out sounding like I hated the whole book.

But that's not the case at all! I liked it alot and the ending, while disappointing, didn't ruin the book, just fell a bit flat. I didn't want readers who saw my review to be discouraged from reading it because of my judgment on the ending - someone else might like it fine, and there's so much in the rest of the book that the flat ending doesn't negate the worth of the time spent.

The other big reason was one for which I have a degree of lofty contempt: spoilers.

I'm not a spoiler-phobe myself. I'll happily read a review that spills the beans and usually know the plots of every movie or TV show I watch before it's on. And if spoilers were such a big issue anyway why would we watch adaptions of movies?

All the same, I do try and avoid them when I'm writing reviews. Surprises or twists are part of the pleasure in a good story in any medium. It's a pleasure worth preserving and I think it's a little unfair to take it away from someone else if you can avoid it. Sometimes, when I've dived a little further in depth than usual it's unavoidable, and for some works it doesn't matter, but if you don't have to talk about it it's worth avoiding the topic.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale isn't really a plotty book, but the resolution of the tangle it throws up is definitely in that spoiler category, so I wanted to avoid discussing it directly. I felt that Tara returning to fairyland was the easy option. Her return had allowed old wounds to be vented and begin to heal, but she didn't stick around to face the tricky questions about 'what now' or cause further problems in the lives of those around her.

I suppose, in a way, this ending leaves the same kind of absence as the fairy plot created in the first place. Even so, it felt like it avoided the more difficult questions thrown up if Tara decided to stay, and left the attack-fairy sub-plot more or less unresolved.

I also thought it was a little too neat that Mrs Larwood turned out to have also been taken by fairies (huge spoiler there!) and it undermined what I saw as the whole point of the Jack subplot. That one seems less excusable, just grabbing the closest thing to hand. The vengance meted out to the psychiatrist seemed unnecessary, too.

I always think that criticisms have to be held up to greater scrutiny than compliments. I could just say 'and a wonderful ending...' and no one will bat an eye. If I say 'terrible ending!' the reader, not unnatuarally, wants to see my working. I coudn't provide that here without going into more detail than I wanted to.

Between these two difficulties, I decided the problem was finally intractable  and cut all my comments relating to the ending. This is not uncommon in reviews. I've usually got more I want to say, but I realise that it doesn't all quite fit. Something has to go, sometimes critique, sometimes compliments, sometimes philosophical ruminations. A review has to follow a few rules of good writing - to have focus and structure, and sometimes that means leaving stuff out, as on this occasion.

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