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  • The Tree Singer by Danny Fahey



    The Tree Singer by Danny Fahey

    Reviewed by: John Walsh



    It always strikes me that the difference between fantasy fiction and fable is that the former makes some effort to conform to a meaningful form of reality, albeit one that has never existed. The latter, on the other hand, takes modern people and transplants them into another place more or less unchanged with a view to watching how they will react to a change in fortunes or circumstances. In the case of The Tree Singer, we are introduced to the world of Jacob, who is a fifteen year-old youth at the start of the story and who encounters a mysterious stranger, Simon, who comes unexpectedly out of the undergrowth. One thing leads to another and Jacob invites Simon back to his house to meet his mother. The mysterious and rather dirty old man is offered the opportunity to stay for dinner in the residence of a single parent family (Jacob’s father died some years before while fishing during a storm) located on the side of a lake which is described as having precious few if any visitors.During the meal that follows, the mother serves not just vegetables but meat, wine and coffee. At what point, one wonders, does a young widow who appears to do not work at all and whose only child is described as ‘lazy’ and feckless, manage to obtain coffee and wine and indeed meat (but no fish, despite this being regularly described as a fishing village)and serve it up on a casual evening meal? When it comes to that, how come the mother is described as no more than thirty when it later becomes evident that ‘eighteen year old maidens’ are a common concept and, indeed, Jacob himself fails to marry his girlfriend or even take her to bed despite desires to the contrary and at least seven years to do so? Well, clearly we are in fable territory. Indeed, this might be a young adult book if it were not for the fact that Jacob subsequently denies himself the charms of Maddie to pay for nights with the village sex worker.Simon is a healer, who has a gift of unknown provenance that allows him to cure whatever ails the people of the village into which he has stumbled. Veritably he is a miracle worker because no sooner has he healed Jacob’s sloth and his mother’s grief, as well as ‘Addled Maddie’s’ vaguely specified learning disability problem and some other personal issues than it turns out the village is actually on the path of numerous trading routes and merchants become common – although it was earlier the case that next to no one ever came there. The mother swiftly picks up a live-in soldier lover, Jacob becomes a flute-maker (pace Sigmund) and Addled Maddie becomes Strangely Patient Maddie. Simon, meanwhile, hangs around the village doing not very much: the fish have returned, Jacob learns how to make the precious trees yield up their wood willingly for him to drill holes in it to make flutes – that is the reason for the title – and all flourish. Obviously, this is all too good to be true and we spend the rest of the book waiting for the inevitable reckoning, which revolves around, of course, a brief sojourn in the wicked city and then bringing that poison back to the innocent village. Some novels are born as short stories and those short stories are often fragments which are then incorporated into longer pieces without thorough reconsideration of whether they really fit in the new location. I have done this myself and perhaps that is the reason why I look to see whether other people have done the same thing.Even so, this is perhaps a minor flaw and the inconsistencies merely noted by curmudgeons such as myself who, lacking talent, decry it in others. On the whole, this is a nicely written piece with an interesting tale, slightly slow but mostly moving consistently in a sensible direction. I was interested to find out what Simon would turn out to be and what the price Jacob and the others would have to pay for the miraculous cures they had received. The attention to detail with the various types of fish is well done and the concept of the trees and their nature is compelling; this story of gain, loss and possible redemption is one that will have many readers enthralled. Based on the initial foreword, it seems that this book comes from an author who has had the tale coaxed out of him over the course of a number of years – having had this initial burden lifted from his shoulders, I would be interested to see what he is able to do next, having surely grown as an author from the trial of getting the first one in print.





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