Friday, July 28, 2006

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

This book was inspired by one of my favorite poems, The Stolen Child by W.B. Yeats. The plot is very clever: changelings (or hobgoblins, as they are called in this book) are not just fairy creatures of the British Isles, but live among us in modern times, still plying their trade of stealing human children and replacing them with goblins. The stolen children live among the goblins (becoming goblins themselves through a magical ritual), and eventually go on to replace other stolen human children. It's like goblin recycling. This book got a lot of press recently, and I discussed it a few weeks ago in this post, where I complained about the bashing of amateur book reviewers.

In this story, Henry Day, a boy in 1940's Pennsylvania is stolen from his home and replaced with a goblin who was himself a child stolen in the mid-19th century. In alternating chapters, we follow both boys: Henry Day (renamed Aniday), and his unsettled new life with the goblins, and the new Henry Day (formerly a boy named Gustav) as he adjusts to his return to humanity after so many years in the forest.

This book works well in many ways. It certainly is original, and I like this kind of magical realism, where fantasy and reality collide. The author, Keith Donohue, does a good job of making all the pieces fit together in a complex puzzle. The other goblin characters are fascinating, and their lives in the forest are interesting, if depressing, what with dinner choices that include roasted squirrel and toasted bugs. I found the human story to be less well done. While Donohue's goblin characters are unique, his human characters are cardboard cutouts; undeveloped stock characters assigned to roles such as "best friend," "girlfriend" and "mother." The new Henry Day's human life is unsatisfying both to him and to us; even his search for his former identity is dull, and the resolution depends on too many coincidences. It was like Donohue wasn't as interested in this story as he was in the goblin story, and was just going through the motions. There's even a continuity error, where a character is said to have gone to Catholic high school on one page, and 50 pages later is reported to have gone to public high school. Donohue just wasn't paying enough attention, it seems, to remember details about his (boring human) characters.

Donohue has an interesting Web site.
(Book 34, 2006)


Post a Comment