Rats. I've done it again. Nearly disappeared. And I've gone and left this excellent book all unreviewed until I've mostly forgotten what I intended to say. The end of February was just merciless at work, a few of those weeks back to back where you leave work feeling totally used up and still have to deal with all the other stuff of daily life stole me out of the blogging world. The good news is, for my birthday, I gave myself a very long weekend. A little time to refresh and catch up on all the things that have been falling by the wayside (and to drive two hours to eat at the Cheesecake Factory! Yum!). All right, now we must see if I can still write a book review after all this time.... ;-)
Or better yet, I am a changeling - a word that describes within its own name what we are bound and intended to do. We kidnap a human child and replace him or her with one of our own. The hobgoblin becomes the child, and the child becomes a hobgoblin... The changelings select carefully, for such opportunities come along only once a decade or so. A child who becomes part of our society might have to wait a century before his turn in the cycle arrives, when he can become a changeling and reenter the human world.
The Stolen Child opens on the day that the changelings steal 7-year-old Henry Day. Frustrated with his mother and his twin little sisters, Henry runs away to the forest. Someone returns to fill Henry's place, but it is not Henry. Henry, meanwhile, is abducted by the rest of the changelings and made into one of them, condemned to endless childhood until the opportunity arises to steal the life of some other unfortunate child. The changelings christen him Aniday, and as he becomes a part of their tribe, his former life and even his name slip away from his memory. Meanwhile, the changeling who became Henry Day struggles at once to embrace his new identity and discover the truth of his first life while vehemently trying to forget his many decades as a changeling.
Both Aniday and the new Henry Day make uneasy homes within their unexpected lives. Donohue reveals the lives of the twelve changelings who make their home in the forest growing, scavenging, and stealing enough provisions to get by and preparing for the time when the next in line will reenter the human world. In alternating chapters, Donohue follows the fake Henry Day as he executes a believable imitation of Henry at the same time as he rediscovers his great talent from his first life. Both strive against the forgetting to know again what their lives once were and these desperate strivings will inevitably cause their two paths to cross once more.
The Stolen Child is a fascinating book. It's beautifully executed literary fantasy that grapples intriguingly with ideas of art, memory, and humanity while at the same time causing us to think, "What if?" Donohue works the angles of this story with ease never allowing us for a second to lose our sympathies for each and every one of the characters despite the fact that their mere existence and their potential to steal away children is the stuff of parents' worst nightmares. Donohue makes it easy to comprehend the desperation to regain a human life that drives the changelings to steal a child after decades of ageless boredom in the forest, but then he doesn't let us forget the real Henry Day, unwittingly robbed of his life, either. I was totally caught up in Donohue's tale. Each and every character is totally fleshed out and so engrossing that readers will desperately want to know them even more. Donohue's prose is stunning, bringing to surreal life the ultimately ordinary forest dwelling of the changelings in all seasons and bringing to the surface the clouded memories of the changelings.
Despite their less than human existence, this story about faeries is ultimately about being human. It's about how music and the written word and the act of creation in itself are what preserve and renew our lives in our memory. It's about the wonders of an endless childhood but also about the need to grow old. It's a story with so many characters and layers that I can't hope to enumerate them all here. It's book that will intrigue you and leave you thinking about it long after you've turned the last page.
Memory, which so confounds our waking life with anticipation and regret, may well be our one earthly consolation when time slips out of joint.