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The Good Fairies of New York

August 29, 2011

One day I was walking through the bookstore and a book flew into my hand, as they do, and I read on the back of it: “The Good Fairies of New York is a story that starts when Morag and Heather, two eighteen-inch fairies with swords and green kilts and badly-dyed hair fly through the window of the worst violinist in New York, an overweight and antisocial type named Dinnie, and vomit on his carpet.” Well, I was sold.  By Martin Millar, this novel has an engaging introduction by Neil Gaiman, which seemed like a bonus.

The book sat around in my house for a while, as my parents were the only ones who had time to pick it up, and they put it back down after about 50 pages each. Then, towards the end of the summer, Eleanor picked it up and read it all the way through, leaving it on a table afterwards without comment, where I found it and read the first 50 pages. I asked her if it was worth continuing, because I couldn’t see that any of the many plot threads were going to come together. She said they did, and so I kept reading—occasionally, when I had a spare moment, and I haven’t had many of those since August began. I would read a few pages before getting bored and going to sleep, but I’d keep coming back to it because of bits like this one:

“Cal was auditioning young actresses for the part of Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Heather looked on with some annoyance.
‘None of them was anything like a fairy queen,’ she complained later to Dinnie….”

The plot revolves around a bargain that Heather the fairy makes with Dinnie the human. As she explains it to him:

“Once you are going out with Kerry, everybody will want to be your friend because she is immensely popular and any man she chooses to go out with must be a fairly desirable specimen. Virtually overnight you will be transformed from a lonely and pathetic creature, despised by all, into a hip young man about town with a cool girlfriend. Instead of wallowing about in an armchair every night watching baseball and sex programs you will be able to turn up at gigs and nightclubs with Kerry on your arm, making everyone jealous. She is a most attractive young woman, and highly desirable. Your happiness will be unbounded.
As for me, once I have the MacPherson Fiddle, I will be changed from a wanted outlaw to Scotland’s most popular fairy. Returning home with such a famous and long-lost item will stun and amaze the whole of fairydom and more than make up for the accident with the banner.”

The simple–occasionally awkward–sentences and the matter-of-fact tone about mystical things reminds me a little of the writing of Francesca Lia Block. But as the story drones on, it gets less mystical and more like an episode of The Three Stooges with fairies and homeless New Yorkers cast in supporting roles.

One of the bag ladies, Magenta, thinks she’s the general of an army of ancient Greeks, and goes around thinking “There were a great deal of fierce local tribesmen on the streets of New York and Magenta was continually harassed. The worst ones had blue shirts and guns and they never seemed to leave her alone.” While clever at first, this kind of thing gets old after a while, especially–at least for me–when the grammar begins to falter (“there were a great deal”). As the plot progresses, the simplicity of the sentences more often breaks down into non-grammatical structures. Take this one, which badly needs a comma:
“With the battle over the fairies partied on the East Village rooftops.”

We did have a fun intertextual moment when Eleanor looked up the fiddle piece the fairies like to play, Tullochgorum, and we heard what it sounds like.

I highly recommend this as a book to bore you to sleep when you need it. It’s perfect for days when you don’t want to have a good book pulling at your attention, begging you to put aside the work you have to do. This one pulled at me less and less as it went along, and I wasn’t sorry to finish it, although I’m not entirely sorry I read it, either. It was reliably soporific to the end—and at my age, in times of stress, there’s a kind of magic in that.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2011 9:37 am

    That’s a shame, because I kind of want a story about the worst violinist in New York.

    • August 29, 2011 9:39 pm

      It kind of is…Heather teaches him to play some Scottish fiddle pieces.

  2. freshhell permalink
    August 29, 2011 7:50 pm

    My goodness. When I need something to get me through a busy patch, I usually choose a fun gripping Dorothy Sayers or Dick Frances. Something I can pick up and put down without losing the thread. Also, those kind of books don’t mind being neglected at times. I am not sure I’d get through even 12 pages of this one even though its premise is intriguing.

    • August 29, 2011 9:43 pm

      Usually I choose rereading when I’m too busy to read much. This one was like rereading, in that I could put it down. A mystery tempts me to stay up that half hour longer, and then I get sleep deprived and can’t focus and it become apparent that I’m not competent and…well, let’s just say I don’t want to go there.

  3. August 30, 2011 8:39 pm

    That was the most interesting book “recommendation” I’ve read in awhile. It sounded so promising…

  4. August 30, 2011 9:02 pm

    It really did. And Neil Gaiman says he liked it. Sometimes I think you can like a good idea even if the execution of it isn’t very good.

  5. August 31, 2011 8:11 pm

    So, hey, I’m not the boss of your life, but I read this first of all Martin Millar’s books, and had much the same reaction that you did. I read Lonely Werewolf Girl subsequently and enjoyed it way more, and when I’ve gone back to The Good Fairies of New York, I’ve liked it better. Not as much as Lonely Werewolf Girl, but a lot.

    • August 31, 2011 8:11 pm

      So you know. Do with that information what you will.

      • August 31, 2011 10:34 pm

        I guess it means I’ll be more inclined to take a chance on reading Lonely Werewolf Girl if I ever happen upon it in the library. And if that library visit coincides with a bout of insomnia…will I be disappointed? Hmmm.

  6. September 4, 2011 11:42 am

    Sorry to hear this was a bust. I came across the book years ago in a bookstore and had much the same reaction you did, but I didn’t buy it. Millar has been on my TBR list ever since. I think own a copy of The Lonely Wolf Girl and it’s sequel. Whenever I get to them hopefully they will live up to Gaiman’s hype.

    Nice Blog.

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