Re: The Limits of Enchantment

It’s time to admit that there are several books I like that I’m not going to be able to do justice to, and waiting to post about them won’t make it any better. For example, The Limits of Enchantment, by Graham Joyce is exactly the sort of book that I never would have bothered with if it hadn’t been nominated for an award–a well-written book that skates back and forth over the boundaries of fantasy. Once again, I was drawn in by the narrator’s voice from the beginning:

If I could tell you this in a single sitting, then you might believe all of it. Even the part about what I found in the hedgerow. If I could unwind this story in a single spool, or peel it like an apple the way Mammy could with her penknife in one unbroken coil, juice a-glistening on the blade, then you might bite in without objection.

I liked Fern, the narrator. She is Mammy’s adopted daughter and heir to a long line of midwives and herbalists in rural England. We get to see her in action right away, assisting a birth and recording the event on 4th February 1966. Even as Fern looks up at the stars thinking about the dead dogs and monkeys the Russians had put into orbit, the bureaucracy of modern medicine is encroaching on traditional medicine. Since Mammy is too old and proud to earn a license, she might be out of business soon. Before that can happen, blame for a mishap falls on Mammy’s head, forcing Fern to make her own way in an unfriendly world.

Some of the conflict seems predictable, such as the local village trusting and yet mistrusting the midwife, or the disreputable young man who comes a-courting. Others are not so expected, like the hippies setting up a commune just down the road. There’s a grand surge of what seems to be magic at the end, but Fern herself is not sure she believes. Belief is left as an exercise for the reader.

Puts Graham Joyce on my ever-lengthening list of authors I’d like to read more of.