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The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke

by Mark Chadbourn
introduction by Neil Gaiman

(PS Publishing, £8.00, 109 pages, numbered limited edition, trade paperback; also available as signed, numbered, limited edition hardback priced £25.00; published 2002.)

cover scanRichard Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke hangs in London's Tate Gallery, and is reproduced on the cover of PS Publishing's edition of Mark Chadbourn's novella. It's a painting that has fascinated Danny since childhood, when his mother took him to see it. Dadd was in a mental hospital when he painted it, having murdered his own father, wrapped up in an insane vision of demons and ancient Egyptian gods. As Danny grows older, he struggles to understand the meaning of the artwork and finds himself drawn along the same dark but transcendant path that Dadd took...

You could quibble about this novella's genre status, as all the fantasy content has a naturalistic explanation, the delusions of an insane mind. But that would be irrelevant, as Fairy Feller is a powerful story about fantasy and our need for it. We follow Danny from wild-eyed prodigious child to disillusioned adult who nearly throws everything away as a drug trip goes wrong. Danny goes on a tour of Turkey, Jerusalem and Egypt, trying to reproduce Dadd's journey of over a century before, with tragic results. At the centre of his being is his love for his late mother and his guilt at not being able to repay her unconditional love for him.

Chadbourn tells his story with considerable authority, not to mention a sense of places where dark things lurk in the shadows. It's a compelling, frightening and moving story. Very impressive.

Review by Gary Couzens.

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