BookBrowse Reviews The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

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The Stolen Child

A Novel

by Keith Donohue

The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue X
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2007, 384 pages

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A modern fairy tale inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem, The Stolen Child, that tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild. First Novel

From the book jacket: On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings—an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit in this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.

In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world.

Comment: The Stolen Child is one of those out-of-the-box type novels that tend to either miss by a mile or, like books such as The Time Traveler's Wife, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, or The Life of Pi, hit a nerve with people and become tremendously popular. The Stolen Child's blend of fantasy and realism combined with a classic search for identity story should place it firmly in the latter category. A hit in the UK, it did well in hardcover in the USA. Kirkus Reviews describes it as a a "sparkling debut", Publishers Weekly thinks it is "an impressive novel of outsiders whose feelings of alienation are more natural than supernatural," and Waterstones (a leading UK bookseller) describes it as "darkly captivating and intensely readable.... much more than a modern day fairy tale."

Donohue says that his first image for The Stolen Child was "of a young boy hiding in a hollow tree, face pressed against its wooden ribs, determined not to be found by anyone. His defiant wish to be alone struck me as a universal gesture--a striking out for independence that children make when frustrated by the confines of childhood. When the changelings come and get that boy, he becomes a victim of his own imagination. He is stolen away by his own worst nightmare. As concerned as I was about the boy hiding in the tree, I also knew that I wanted to write about an adult struggling to remember the dreams of childhood. He had to be as trapped and frustrated by the strictures of his adulthood. And in order for any drama to exist, these two emotional states must clash."

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in May 2006, and has been updated for the May 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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