Book Reviews
The Stolen Child: Keith Donohue
16th Mar 2010Posted in: Book Reviews Comments Off on The Stolen Child: Keith Donohue
The Stolen Child: Keith Donohue

The myth of the changeling retold. Henry Day, aged seven, runs away from home and is stolen by the faeries, one of whom takes his place. The story is told alternately by each of the two boys as they attempt to adjust to their new lives.

This is a complex tale, with subtexts on the nature of memory and identity and the ‘otherness’ and sometimes dislocated feelings of childhood. On page 127, McInnes, an illusionist and ex-professor of anthropology speaks of:

‘How people use myth and superstition to explain the human condition.’

This could almost be a description of the novel itself.

I have to say that I found the first 100 pages difficult – after the novelty of the first chapters I still hadn’t engaged with either of the boys (if the changeling ‘child’ could be called a boy, being over a century old), and wondered if the story had a plot or whether their parallel lives would just carry on to the end, the differences becoming more marked as time passed. Small inconsistencies bothered me too – e.g. the changeling Henry Day calls the human schoolchildren dirty as compared with the changelings, yet later on Aniday (the stolen or ‘real’ Henry Day), describes the changelings in no uncertain terms as filthy. Then there’s the statement that the changelings had forgotten how to write (‘if they’d ever learned’), and Aniday reads them some stolen letters, yet later two of them are able to read his book. No matter.

Interest picked up when the plot kicked in, and I found the following part of the novel fascinating as events gathered momentum. The changeling Henry Day’s previous life as a human child piano prodigy impinges on the family of the real Henry Day, and eventually works towards bringing about a change in both himself and his now-faerie counterpart.

Perhaps it becomes a little too complex in places – I had questions which were never really answered satisfactorily and towards the end I began to tire of it all and just wanted it to finish.

Keith Donohue has written an unusual novel, one with great depth – not easy given the subject – but for me it would have been improved by cutting its length by a third. I hope that’s not too harsh a judgement.

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