Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Limits of Enchantment" by Graham Joyce

England, 1966: Everything Fern Cullen knows she's learned from Mammy - and none of it's conventional. Taught midwifery at an early age, Fern becomes Mammy's trusted assistant in a quaint rural village and learns through experience that secrets are precious, passion is dangerous, and people should mind their own business. But when one of Mammy's patients allegedly dies from an induced abortion, the town rallies against her. As Fern struggles to save Mammy's good name, she finds communion with a bunch of hippies living at a nearby estate...where she uncovers a legacy spotted with magic - one that transforms her forever. A tale of alchemy and tragedy, magic and truth (this is) a powerful blend of literature and fantasy from a master of the genre.

Normally I just rave about Joyce's books, but this time, not so much. Don't get me wrong; the book is well-written and I did enjoy it. Just not nearly as much as I've enjoyed some of his other, more "magical" works.

Fern is likable enough and the story is written in first-person voice from her perspective. Maybe that's part of the problem - I don't recall Joyce using that sort of narrative before. I could appreciate her plight, too; it's very frightening to have your only parental figure fall ill, and even scarier when there are forces trying to remove you from your home. It's a nice coming-of-age story with a dash of the supernatural in it - and that's the problem.

I think this book would have worked more for me if it had just been the coming of age tale. Either that or I would have preferred Joyce to really delve more into the world of hedgerow medicine, and I would have preferred to read a lot more about Mammy herself. The world of "medicine" as it used to be performed by women for women has almost been completely lost, and having read a wonderful book a long time ago about women's knowledge of herbs, poultices, and such to help prevent/abort pregnancies, I was looking for that sort of information again. There's a little bit of that here, especially when Mammy explains to Fern that you need to really inquire of the "girl" to be sure she's been responsible enough and that she truly doesn't want the baby, etc. But mostly it's about Fern growing up and having to step into an adult role. Nice, but not what I was expecting.

Overall, I still liked it, and I will still read other books by Joyce. I would recommend one of his more fantastical works, though, something like "Dark Sister" or even his Young Adult offering, "The Exchange".

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