Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

Sam and his friends are like any normal gang of normal young boys. Roaming wild around the outskirts of their car-factory town. Daring adults to challenge their freedom.

Until the day Sam wakes to find the Tooth Fairy sitting on the edge of his bed. Not the benign figure of childhood myth, but an enigmatic presence that both torments and seduces him, changing his life forever.

Goodreads Description

In my review of This Magnificent Desolation I talked about the use of magic realism as a means of portraying the psychology of leading characters. This book is an excellent example of such an approach. 

As has been the case with so many of the books I have reviewed on this blog this is a coming-of-age tale. Sam's coming of age, and that of his friends, is set in early 1960's Coventry and so not surprisingly reflects the confusion of the age as young people challenged their elders through drink, drugs, and sex. At the heart of the book is the friendship of the gang of three boys - Sam, Terry and Clive. The blurb above may talk of a normal gang of normal young boys, but each is in his way disturbed: a badge which the boys wear with pride. Although the basis for Terry's disturbed nature goes back to a terrible incident early in the book and Clive's problems seem to stem from being academically brilliant when he wants not to be, Sam's pyschological problems are not explained.  The gang's exploits start as petty vandalism and move into very dangerous behaviour with dire consequences. 

With occasional exceptions this book is seen from the point of view of Sam. We see the tooth fairy through his eyes, but what is it? Sam's psychiatrist regards the Tooth Fairy as a creation of Sam's mind, but is he right? The Tooth Fairy's incarnation certainly reflects Sam's state of mind: at times supportive, at times malevolent, full of the burgeoning sexuality and violence that one finds in teenage boys. The Tooth Fairy at times seems to be an external expression of Sam's hidden obsessions, fears and desires. On one occasion the boys are being taught to ride. Clive and Terry are having problems with their mounts, but Sam's is quietly waiting until: “I LOVE HORSES!' shrieked the Tooth Fairy over his shoulder and off the horse hurtles with Terry clinging on. It's as if Sam's caution is overthrown by a deeper need for speed and danger. In Jungian terms the Tooth Fairy is Sam's shadow, the repository of everything we repress about ourselves and which will break out at times of stress. In Jung's view it is good to embrace the shadow and so at those times when Sam accepts the Tooth Fairy, the Fairy ceases to be malevolent and introduces him to astronomy.
At no time does Sam ever doubt the reality of the Tooth Fairy, including at the end of the book when Sam is a young man. So should we dismiss it as Sam's fantasy? As his psychiatrist says Sam seems to be quite normal apart from his belief in the Tooth Fairy. A key point would appear to be that occasionally other people (including the psychiatrist) are reported as seeing the Tooth Fairy. But Joyce's treatment of the Tooth Fairy remains ambiguous - the reports of sightings could be a result of Sam's interpretation of other events and there are dream sequences which only are shown to be untrue at their end. As has been noted in other reviews on this blog ambiguity is a common trait in magic realism.

I found this book fascinating. I normally would have shied away from it, as it is often labelled as horror and that is a genre that I don't choose to read. This book defies genre. I would have classified it perhaps as contemporary fantasy, pyschological, or simple magic realism. 

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