The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke
UK Hardcover First
Publication Date: 09-15-2002
109 Pages; $40.00
Date Reviewed: 10-23-02
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002
Stories about art run the risk of being presumptuous. Who wants to read a word painting about a painting? Most readers would rather just look at the damn picture than hear what some character has to say about it. But effective prose can be its own reward. Especially if the painting is one of those like 'The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke'. Mark Chadbourn's novella for PS Publishing covers a lot of ground, but what stands out is his character's narrative voice. Quintessentially unreliable, deservedly self-doubting, Danny's nervous energy buoys a story that's cleverly paced and constructed with a surprisingly emotional climax. Noted for his well-wrought horror-adventures based on the invasion of our world by faerie-like creatures, Chadbourn takes an entirely different tack in this novella.
Danny, who tells the story in the first person, first encounters Richard Dadd's famous painting, hanging in the Tate Museum. His mother takes him there and from the very first he seems to find the painting the source of something more than visual pleasure. Chadbourn cuts between the story line of Danny's childhood as a genius with photographic memory, his life as dissolute drug addict and drunk, his journey to follow Dadd's footsteps, and a more urgent situation like a music video filmmaker. The story is told in the written equivalent of shaky-cam, Danny's whinging excuses and slow-witted realizations contrasting with his obvious intelligence and style. Chadbourn makes the prose quite compelling, and the inter-cut story lines pretty much keep Danny from becoming annoying.
Chadbourn is equally adept at conjuring the supernatural. His scenes of faerie invasions are surreal and quite effectively scary. To this reader, they seemed quite well balanced in the overall content of the story. Chadbourn succeeds in taking the reader from the art to the supernatural, and raises some interesting thoughts about the connections between the two. But this is not a story about the supernatural. It's a story about Danny, and his family, and Chadbourn keeps the main focus on the characters.
By focusing on the family relationships, Chadbourn makes sure that the reader connects with Danny in spite of Danny's obvious flaws. Chadbourn wants to knock the readers off their feet and he does so with the sweep of his plot and the power of his prose. As ever, the PS Publishing production is a superb. The book itself is a true pleasure to read, including Neil Gaiman's nicely written, non-spoiler introduction. Save this novella for one of the rainy days to come. Read it with your family by the fire. Don't look too closely at any shadows in the corners of the room.