The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

DATE FINISHED: June 16th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  At the tender age of 5, Sam accidentally sees the Tooth Fairy when he wakes in the middle of the night. From that moment on, Sam sees the Tooth Fairy’s malign hand in everything that goes wrong for the people closest to him while he grows up, like a shadow hanging over him. Sam and his two best friends Terry and Clive are growing up in the sixties, with a world that’s changing around them, but from the safety of their suburban family units. But when the three join in with a scouting game that goes horribly wrong, they live in fear of the moment it will catch up with them throughout their adolescence. And Sam’s visits from the Tooth Fairy ensure he is never at risk of forgetting…

THOUGHTS:  Apparently, this novel is officially categorised as ‘horror’, but I read it as a classic and original coming of age story which effortlessly evokes the everyday fears and adventures of boyhood and friendship in the sixties. The physical manifestation of the somewhat sinister Tooth Fairy in Sam’s life, though, steps the narrative up a level. Is Sam’s psychiatrist right, and the Tooth Fairy merely a projection of Sam’s ordinary childhood guilt and anxieties (in which case, is Sam himself responsible for the minor tragedies that occur around him?) or does the Tooth Fairy really exist, but visible only to Sam? Joyce’s skill is evident in his ability to write such an eloquently ambiguous metaphor, so that the story is successful whichever way one chooses to read it.

Joyce has a wonderful ability to create appealing, fallible, believable characters, and situate them in a truly recognisable world. The Tooth Fairy is an accessible and engaging read, with an interesting psychological perspective of childhood. The only reason I don’t rate it higher is because coming-of-age stories have a natural form to which this one melds beautifully – and thus it is ultimately, quite simply, a well-written example of the genre. Most definitely worth a read but even despite the unique Tooth Fairy metaphor, not quite broken free of its mould.

FOLLOWING ON:  The Tooth Fairy manifests in an alternative form in Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, and also has echoes of Frankenstein‘s monster (Shelley).  I was reminded more of The Body (novella) by Stephen King.  It also bears strong similarity in terms of coming-of-age to Joyce’s slightly later The Limits of Enchantment (although this time with female protagonist).

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