For the most part, I really loved reading The Stolen Child. Carey’s writing is a real treat to read, and I was intrigued by the story from the very beginning. However, as much as I enjoyed it, I was equally very irritated by certain parts of it. No matter my reaction, negative or not, I did feel passionate about this book, so for that reason alone, I would recommend it.
The Stolen Child is set in a remote fictional island, just off the Irish coast, during the late 1950s. Drawing on Irish folklore and mythology, the author deftly places a narrative of magical realism against a domestic backdrop. Carey has crafted an eerie tale in which the setting and supernatural elements allow her to explore the extremity of human behaviour away from the ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ world. The book delves into the dangers and powers of superstition while also addressing themes such as motherhood, friendship and rivalry. Carey easily shifts between domestic mundanity and a more magical reality while also depicting the ambiguity of a community torn between two worlds.
Like their island, the residents of St. Brigid, a saint that is both pagan and christian, have clashing beliefs: they believe both in the existence of fairies and a christian God. They are a traditional people who do not mind being cut-off from the rest of civilization. However, when storms and accidents the populations dwindles. So much so that the last few inhabitants of St. Brigid have been promised new council houses on the mainland. Not all are eager to leave the island behind. Twins Emer and Rose – married to two brothers – have opposing views. Emer, feared by others for the strange gift she possesses, desperately wants to leave because she fears that her young son, Niall, will be taken by the faeries. Rose, on the other hand, would happily raise her children on the island. Tensions arise further with the arrival of an American, a woman named Brigid, who has inherited a house on St. Brigid, and is seeking a well rumored to cure any illness. The islanders, who are a secluded people, do not welcome her foreign ways. That is with the exception of Emer. Emer, an outcast herself, is intrigued by Brigid, especially since she suspects that the newcomer may possess powers of her own.
The Stolen Child is an emotionally torrid book in which lies a seam of violence which was often unnecessary. In fact, one couldn’t help but to feel a sense of foreboding while reading this novel. There is a constant sense of dread that is emphasized by the unease between the two protagonist. Carey centers her story centres on two equally unlikable characters and putting Emer’s gratuitous cruelty against Brigid’s conceitedness. Much of the story revolves around the relationship between these two women. While they both possess ties to the faery people of St. Brigid, they do not share the same ideals, and that is what makes their relationship so tense. This may could deter some readers, given that many will undoubtedly find Brigid to be cruel and vainglorious despite the author’s attempt to make her seem like a kind of ideal feminist ‘hero’.
Carey plays around with different concepts by linking fairies and magic with lust, rape, pleasure and power. The author’s lyrical style matches the story’s atmospheric setting and alluring storyline. Using a poetical and sensual voice Carey has created a tale imbued with myths and old lore. The constant sense of anguish however detracts from the overall enjoyment of the novel. Also, it was impossible to gloss over the fact that all of the characters, especially Brigid and Emer, are –for the most part– incredibly infuriating. The Stolen Child uses a melodic prose to tell an enticing mystery that explores the nature of fear, love and authority but also suffers from a story populated by unsavoury characters. Towards the end, the plot loses its initial spark, and by then I had grown tired of the two detestable main characters, so, despite loving Carey’s writing, I think that The Stolen Child would have benefited from a more conclusive plot. Last but not least, I didn’t always like the way in which the author handled certain things; that is to say that I couldn’t tell wherever she actually approved of how some of her characters behaved or not.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to read Carey again.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars