The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

I'd actually picked up this novel and put it back on the bookshop shelves on several occasions before I finally decided to buy it last week. Why I put it back, I can't be sure - possibly I was put off  by the blurb on the back, which makes it sound like a trashy horror novel (the book is in the ever-diminishing Horror section in Waterstone's). I like horror; I dislike trashy horror. I'm glad, however, that I eventually caved in, because The Tooth Fairy was a thoroughly enjoyable and often touching read, part horror novel, part coming-of-age novel, part psychological thriller.

Sam Southall, aged seven at the start of the novel and living in the Midlands, loses a tooth. Debating the existence of the Tooth Fairy with his best friends, Terry and Clive, he agrees to the precocious Clive's plan: to find out once and for all whether the Tooth Fairy exists, he should put his tooth under the pillow without telling his parents. That night, Sam receives a visit from the reeking, androgynous, vicious Tooth Fairy - a Tooth Fairy who is dangerously furious that Sam can see it, and who comes to exert a dangerous influence over not just Sam, but his friends. Sometimes, the Tooth Fairy is threatening, even violent; frequently vindictive; sometimes, seductive; occasionally jealous and needy. Sometimes, it even professes to be helpful - but the Tooth Fairy's particular brand of 'help' is the most terrifying of all.

Is the Tooth Fairy real, or simply a manifestation of Sam's own negative emotions - his guilt, his shyness, the sexual frustrations of his adolescence and his sense of inadequacy? Sam's psychiatrist, muttering about paranoia and smelling of Johnnie Walker, thinks the Tooth Fairy will disappear when Sam meets 'a girl'. But if that's the case, how can Sam explain the accidents and misfortune that occasionally befall people who betray him?

Personally, I wouldn't have shelved The Tooth Fairy in the Horror section: it's so much more than that. The evocation of a suburban childhood in England in the 60s is full of well-chosen details, and the story of Sam, Terry and Clive, as well as the seemingly sophisticated Alice (whose 'relationship' with her 'boyfriend' suggests that she is actually the most vulnerable of them all), is perfectly realised.

My only issue with the story was perhaps the end - a bit too easy, perhaps, a bit of a cop-out? Otherwise, though, a chilling, intelligent, ambiguous read.

Comments

  1. Ooh, this sounds intriguing. I'm going to add it to my ever-growing wishlist.

    Halfway through Gaiman's "American Gods." Not enjoying it as much as I thought I would.

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  2. Sounds interesting, I like the idea.

    I´m reading Joe Hill´s "20th Century Ghosts", some of the stories I don´t much care for, but there´s this one called "Pop Art". OMG! If you haven´t read it, please do! It´s a treat, a perfection, a how-I-want-to-be-able-to-write dream.

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  3. RS Bohn: Now, I think I never finished American Gods, which suggests I didn't like it much either.

    Asuqi: Have read 20th Century Ghosts at RS Bohn's recommendation (in fact, it was a birthday present from her) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Pop Art was indeed very good - actually I think that was RS Bohn's favourite as well. My favourites were 'My Father's Mask' and 'Voluntary Committal'.

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