Tuesday, 30 September 2008

‘The Tooth Fairy’ – Graham Joyce (Gollancz)


In one of those really cool coincidences that occasionally happen to me, I’d been hearing people say how great Graham Joyce’s writing is only to have a copy of his book ‘The Tooth Fairy’ end up in the goody bag that I picked up at the Gollancz party last week. I say ‘picked up’... that should really read ‘got another book instead and ended up rooting through all the other bags until I found a book that I liked the look of...’
I had started reading John Scalzi’s ‘The Last Colony but thought I’d flick through a few pages of ‘The Tooth Fairy’ on the way home. As it happens, I still haven’t got round to ‘The Last Colony’ as (apart from a quick break for ‘World War Z’) ‘The Tooth Fairy’ wouldn’t let me put it down until I’d finished...

Seven year old Sam Southall loses a tooth and meets the Tooth Fairy that turns up to collect it. This Tooth Fairy isn’t how you would expect a Tooth Fairy to be though; it’s rank, foul mouthed, quick to anger and has no choice but to stick around throughout Sam’s childhood and teenage years. The Tooth Fairy teaches Sam tricks to play at school and holds him to ransom over some of his darkest moments. It also insists that Sam has his best friend Terry to stay over on the night when Terry’s father goes crazy with a shotgun...

‘The Tooth Fairy’ is the tale of three friends and their journey out of childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. Joyce captures these phases perfectly through the uncertainty of Sam, Terry and Clive in the face of everything that they must deal with throughout the years. Growing up is not a natural progression for these three but rather a constant onslaught of events that they must adapt to or fall by the wayside, isn’t that the same for all of us? Life happens whether we want it to or not and you have to make your way through. This is certainly the case for our three main characters and their ‘Huckleberry Finn but with a little more edge’ adventures in nineteen sixties Coventry. I never made pipe bombs in my Dad’s shed but I still identified with a lot of what Sam had to deal with.

So far, so ‘rites of passage’ but what separates this from the more mainstream version is that Sam has a supernatural companion (the Tooth Fairy) dogging his footsteps from a very early age. Joyce gives the Tooth Fairy an edge (volatile character) and an air of otherworldliness that sets it at stark contrast to the otherwise ordinary suburban background and leaves the reader in no doubt about what they’re dealing with. The Tooth Fairy also serves as an extended metaphor for the journey that Sam takes into adulthood, particularly his sexual awakening in his teenage years.

The change that the Tooth Fairy makes, while Sam is a teenager, (both physically and emotionally) left me a little confused I have to say. While there’s no doubt that the Tooth Fairy is a entity in its own right the changes that it makes streamlines with Sam’s changes to the extent that it’s identity becomes less clear cut to the extent that I wasn’t sure how much the Tooth Fairy was just Sam’s way of imposing his own order on some very confusing times. This is especially true in the psychiatry sessions that Sam has to undergo where conventional wisdom states that Sam has to be making it up for reasons of his own, doesn’t he?

I’ve got no doubt that this was very clever work, on the part of Joyce, to hook the reader through uncertainty over what was going on. It certainly worked for me; I was engrossed and had to get to the end. However, while it really got me thinking about the story it would have been good to see Joyce come down one side or the other over the role of the Tooth Fairy in the book. I found that this vagueness actually got in the way of the story at times... Having said that though, any book that keeps you thinking about it (long after you’ve finished) has to be doing something right...

‘The Tooth Fairy’ is sometimes a confusing read but that just makes me want to go back and get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all, a compelling slice of urban fantasy that really got me thinking about what I was reading.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

3 comments:

Ruby (Mouth) said...

I had heard this was a very odd book and one that was slightly confusing. thnks for the heads up!!

Graeme Flory said...

It's a weird one that got right into my head while I was reading it. Come to think of it, it's still there now...

Darren Turpin said...

I'm sure Graham would be very happy indeed to hear that...

During a panel at this year's Fantasycon he argued - quite passionately - that he never wants to write the sort of fiction that wraps everything up with a nice, neat ending. Instead, he would far prefer to leave the reader feeling disquieted, disconcerted, with a lingering sense that their perception of the world has been just slightly altered away from whatever they previously considered to be 'the norm'.

Sounds like mission accomplished...