The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

A first novel by Keith Donohue and a highly ambitious and imaginative story to tackle and make a good job of. This is the story of a young seven year old boy, Henry Day, who is kidnapped by fairies and replaced by a replica, a Changeling, who lives in his place, while the boy lives in the timeless world of the forest fairies. We are told, chapter by chapter, of these displaced peoples view, as they grow in their new existences.
When the book started I was worried it was going to be all 'acorn cups full of sunshine' and 'robes spun from spiders web'. A pseudo-Disney fairy world. I was quickly relieved and sometimes quite surprised by the brutality and animalistic qualities of the Changelings world. Forever children, they are frequently hungry, cold and dirty, living on their wits, a life out of sync with the world we know, all of them wishing for the time to re-enter the world again, as another child will be courted as a swap.
Essentially we have 2 stories existing side by side, the protagonists only meeting briefly at the end. We have a little boy learning to survive in the forest using the skills and heightened senses taught to him by the others in the small feral band, as well as retaining the need to write it all down. His relationship with the others and his becoming one of them and their society (some of which has echoes of The Lord of the Flies) forms the boys story, as the they prepare, many years in advance for the next swap. Then we have the Changeling who becomes Henry Day, his coldness and inability to relate to other people well, despite his ability to mimic the boy, the suspicions of his parents, and as he grows older, his own need to forget his previous life in the forest, as well as his obsession with protecting his own son.
I enjoyed greatly listening to each of their strange tales, their outsiders views, their alienation and need to survive. I found the Changeling character less likeable but none the less interesting. I also enjoyed the fact that I really did not know where the stories would end up. There are enough close encounters and originality to keep the reader gripped all the way through. Sometimes other people are involved in these encounters which taps into our own folklore, things mysteriously missing, even people traumatised by overstepping into the Changeling world. I found the inevitable meeting and discovery of each other, many many years in the future was what drove the plot, and its eventual fruition moving and quite tragic. While one grows into a man with his own family, I found myself shocked at the physical description of how the boy looked after the same amount of time living another kind of life, rough and primal. A life of half remembered longing that will never be fulfilled. I will leave this for you to discover.
My only complaint is the overuse of unbelievable coincidences that the book relies on heavily to drive the story forward. There are too many and at least one becomes almost implausable. This could make an otherwise excellent piece of story telling appear a bit sloppy in places. I found that this could be forgiven though, amongst so much else that entertained and gave food for thought in a first novel. A highly memorable book.

Here are links to another interesting review from the Guardian and a Readers Guide from Book browse...


Jeane said...

I loved this book. I can't wait to read another one by the same author. Great review!

Leah said...

Thanks jeane, its a good one isn't it. I'll be looking out for his next one too. Like your site too! Hope you drop by again soon!

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