Monday 23 January 2023

The Tooth Fairy, by Graham Joyce (a review)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've just read and loved, which I think adds to the horror genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan. In this case, the book first came out in 1996 and was written by the late and much-missed Graham Joyce, so the chances are you might have already heard of it. I'd been putting off reading it for a long, long time and when I finally picked it up I was pleased to find it inscribed to me and I realised I bought it from him at a Terror Scribes gathering in Leicester in 2001 (which I wrote about here).

When seven-year-old Sam Southall loses a tooth, he’s visited by the Tooth Fairy, a demonic being (sometimes male, sometimes female) that apparently only he can see, but whose malignant influence spills over onto his family and friends. The Tooth Fairy hangs around as Sam grows up, teaching him to make mischief at school and influencing his actions. One day she insists Sam’s friend Terry sleeps over and that same night, Terry's father shoots his wife, his other children, and himself…

I am a huge Graham Joyce fan and I’d been holding this back (the book was published in 1996) because  - well, there aren't a lot of his I have yet to read - but I’m so glad I did. Filled with Joyce’s wonderous prose, mastery of character and dialogue and a brilliant evocation of a seventies childhood (the timespan is never properly specified), this was just glorious. The lives of Sam, Terry and Clive are imbued with a sense of love and melancholy and the introduction of Alice to the group works brilliantly - she’s just as vivid a character as them, even if her motives aren’t always clear. And while the boys navigate friendships, parents and the rigours of becoming teenagers, the Tooth Fairy is always there, an ever-present reminder that things don’t always go right, however much you try to make them. There are scenes of horror - Terry’s family, Tooley the scout, poor Linda in London - and they’re shocking but the book, ultimately, is about friendship and love and I found it by turns funny and sad and eminently readable. I cannot recommend this highly enough and I envy those who have yet to discover its sense of wonder.

* * *
Graham Joyce was born the mining village of Kerseley, near Coventry, on 22nd October 1954, where he grew up.  He obtained his bachelor’s degree in education at Bishop Lonsdale college, an MA in English and American Literature at the University of Leicester and in 2004 was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University.

In 1988, he quit his job and went to live on the Greek island of Lesbos, to concentrate on writing.  His first novel, Dreamside, funded travel to the Middle East and he went on to write fourteen novels, five young adult novels, and an autobiographical book about his experiences as goalie for the England Writers' football team (which, by the way, is excellent).  He also wrote numerous short stories.

Over his career, he won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel five times, the World Fantasy Award , the French Grand Prix De L'Imaginaire twice and the prestigious O Henry award for his short story An Ordinary Soldier of the Queen. In 2008 he was awarded the Honorary degree of Master of Letters by the University of Derby.

He continued to write and teach creative writing at Nottingham Trent University until his death on 9th September 2014.

Biography from the Graham Joyce website

I was lucky to meet him on several occasions and we got to know each other well enough we'd chat and share a laugh whenever we were in the same place (usually at FantasyCon).  I saw him at WFC (he was heading downstairs, I was heading up, he said "Hello mate!" and changed direction so we could walk and talk for a while) in Brighton and got to tell him how much his novel The Year Of The Ladybird meant to me and he seemed genuinely moved when I told him it made me cry.  However, when I asked him if he was going to write a short story, detailing the love affair after the novels end, he told me to bugger off!  

I miss his presence and his writing.

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