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Graham Joyce
The Limits of Enchantment
Victor Gollancz / Orion Books
UL Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-575-07231-8
Publication Date:01-20-2005
256 Pages; £12.99

The Limits of Enchantment
Atria Books / Simon and Schuster
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 0-743-46344-7
Publication Date: 02-22-2005
272 Pages; $22.00
Date Reviewed:11-05-2004, 12-09-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index:  General Fiction  Fantasy  Horror

"Trust the tale and not the teller," Fern Cullen tells us on the first page of Graham Joyce's new novel, 'The Limits of Enchantment'. "...listen hard. Not to your thoughts, which will mislead you, nor to your heart, which will lie..." Graham Joyce knows a few things about your heart, it seems. And he's unwilling to lie. Fern Cullen, shedding the last of her sheltered teenage years amidst the English midlands in 1966, tells the tale in Joyce's latest novel. Her voice is rings true, rings close, rings clear, in gorgeous bell-tones that carry the reader effortlessly, buoy us on a breeze, in a whisper. She's learned a lot from her adopted mother, from her Mammy. The passing of wisdom is commonplace in her life. The passing of wisdom is quite uncommon in ours, and few are those who can do so with the eloquence, the grace and the power of Graham Joyce. There are no limits of enchantment within the experience of reading this novel.

The limits of Fern Cullen's life are quite clearly described in her own voice, a voice that's consistently a joy to read. This is the kind of book that readers will want to read aloud, from the dramatic opening monologue to the closing coda. Joyce's prose is a delight to encounter, page after page. Every paragraph yields a new treasure, a new turn of phrase to be relished. Mammy is the last of the traditional hedgerow midwives in her neck of the woods. She's the woman to whom the other women in the village turn when they find themselves in the family way and need help. She knows the herbs, the rubs, the mixes and recipes that will set things right. But before she sets things right, before she supplies the solution, she makes a simple demand. She's to know the cause of the problem. She's to know the name of the father.

Set in the years before abortion was made safe and legal, 'The Facts of Life' offers a compelling look at the balance of power between men and women, between tradition and science. Joyce's portrait of hedgerow medicine is fascinating and detailed, as is his portrait of rural England in 1966, as change sweeps across the land and indeed around the world. In this microcosm of Fern's world, we see the world at large. When a group of hippies inherit land near Mammy's house, it signals the beginning of the end of Mammy's traditions, and their rebirth in Fern.

What makes the novel so compulsively readable, so utterly pleasurable goes beyond Joyce's easy-seeming prose. He presents for his readers life in full, in its complete state, literally from beginning to end and beyond. The variety of life, from tragedy to farce is brought to life by his ability to weave humor and hint at horror within a single scene, often within a single paragraph. Readers will find themselves guffawing in one moment then holding back a tear in the next. Joyce renders each scene in Fern's voice with a breathtaking transparency. The tone of the novel shifts naturally, entertainingly, as Fern and Mammy realize the limits of their lives.

Joyce provides a compelling and intricate plot to structure the novel. Within the flawlessly researched environment, Joyce has managed to strip out any single word that might get in the way of creating the story for the reader. The progression of the midlands from an almost prehistoric level of civilization, notch by notch, into the twentieth century, provides an intense drama. Because Joyce so successfully manages to invest his readers in his characters, we care dreadfully for what will happen to them.

The fascinating prehistoric elements of the novel provide the underpinnings for ecstatic flights of visionary writing. Few writers have a mastery of the surreal as engaging as Joyce. He knows precisely how far to take the reader into those moments when the supernatural, when the numinous, intrudes into our world and shifts our perceptions beyond the details of our petty lives. He also has the ability to make these visions applicable not only to the characters in the novel but to the readers as well. By scratching about in the universal unconsciousness, he manages to get universal access. We all have a moment now and again when we feel the tug from beneath and beyond. Joyce will bring you back to your moments as you read of Fern's.

And reading is the point. Joyce writes a novel that offers an almost handcrafted feel. Readers who encounter 'The Limits of Enchantment' will find that every detail is attended to; every word has earned its place in the novel. It's why he's able to pack so much life into such a short space. Joyce writes the kind of novel that readers can and should take very slowly, though the temptation will be to read it in a single sitting. Don't, or if you do, realize that you're likely to return to the first page and start again, to enjoy every detail, to experience every laugh, every moment of mystery once again. Joyce is one of our great novelists, one of the treasures of our time. You need not accept my word for it. Pick up the book. "Trust the tale and not the teller."

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