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The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce

The Limits of Enchantment (2005)

by Graham Joyce

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English (15)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (16)
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Magic or hallucination? This is a story of a hedge witch's apprentice, set in a village in 1960's England. I got a good sense of the time, place, and its history and became so involved with the character that there is still one plot hole that is bugging me. ( )
  cindywho | May 27, 2019 |

This book was recommended to me, and I'm so glad I read it! I didn't want the story to be over. Beautifully written and a very easy read. ( )
  SuziQBird | May 9, 2018 |
I came to this book not long after reading the same author's 'The Facts of Life', and at first I thought that there might be some connection between the two stories. In 'The Facts of Life', one of the protagonists, fey Cassie Vine, gave away an unwanted illegitimate girl child in that book's back story, in Coventry in about 1939-40; in this book, the protagonist is Fern Cullen, who is in her twenties in 1966 but who was adopted by Mammy Cullen, is being brought up in the ways of wise women, has no formal record of her birth (and so might be the odd year or so older than we are led to believe), and, perhaps most importantly for this hypothesis, lives in rural Leicestershire, not a million miles from Coventry.

Ultimately, we find that this hypothesis has nothing to support it, even though the evidence in the book of Fern's origin is purely circumstantial; but the exploration of that possibility made for an interesting narrative hook.

The novel is about Fern, her relationship with her adoptive mother, Mammy Cullen, and her induction into the ways of folk medicine and its particular application to birth and conception, and sometimes the prevention of those things. But it is 1966, times are changing, and the old ways are under threat from both the march of modernisation on the one hand - the NHS, now nearly 20 years old and establishing itself as the sole arbiter of what is acceptable medicine and what is not, and with radical new technologies (ultrasound scans) on the horizon that will make the old ways seem arbitrary and old-fashioned - and the rearguard actions of the Establishment on the other in trying to perpetuate traditional feudal relationships in the face of alternative lifestyles new and old.

The setting for the book, rural eastern Leicestershire, is well depicted. It is still today a rather hilly and isolated area, and it is easy to imagine old traditions surviving in such an area. Graham Joyce looked deeply into the old ways and reflected many of them in this book. The climax of the book is a traditional football match between the villages of Hallaton and Medbourne (both of which exist); this is not football as most people will know it, but rather a more traditional form of institutionalised warfare between two village teams, fought out over a large tract of land, with little in the way of rules and with an annual toll of injuries. Similar football matches can be found on Shrove Tuesday at places such as Ashbourne in Derbyshire and Atherstone in Warwickshire. In the novel, the villagers use the football match as a pretext for taking their revenge on certain people who had been conspiring against Fern; and for me, this was where the novel, which up to that point had been a fairly static if well-drawn picture of Fern, the characters she meets and the folk rituals she carries out, came to life.

Although the time of the novel is 1966, I know from my own experience that the "Swinging Sixties" took quite some time to penetrate some of the more rural corners of England; and some of the characters and situations seem a little more reminiscent of D.H.Lawrence and the inter-war years than the late 20th century. But that is how it was. And the arrival of a hippy commune in the village does little to change that view, even as the very presence of the commune offers another challenge to to Establishment.

Ultimately, this book didn't engage me as viscerally as 'The Facts of Life', but nonetheless it is a good picture of a particular time and place. ( )
1 vote RobertDay | May 16, 2016 |
I recently read Joyce's 'The Silent Land' and said, "Why haven't I read any of this author's work before?" I still don't know! I picked this up next - and it's even better than 'The Silent Land.'

Set in the 1960's, in rural England, it deftly draws the strange line of culture clash between old-fashioned ways of life and the incursion of the modern world.
The protagonist is a young woman, apprentice to a traditional midwife. Her learning has been herb-lore and beliefs called superstition, and although she has her loyal customers, business is hurting now that pre-natal care is provided by the National Health Service.
The traditional midwife also provides abortions, though...
And when a young woman dies, tensions in the village come to a head...

Things aren't helped by the commune of free-love hippies who've taken over the adjoining farm, and are also regarded with deep suspicion by most of the villages.

What unfolds is a tale that, yes, is on the edge of fantasy, containing magic and the unexplained, but is first and foremost a tale of people, beliefs, and ways of life.

I absolutely loved it. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743463455, Paperback)

Graham Joyce

tells the story of two extraordinary women -- one who was born ahead of her time, the other whose coming-of-age coincided with a time of great change.

The Limits of Enchantment

England, 1966: Everything Fern Cullen knows she's learned from Mammy -- and none of it's conventional. Taught midwifery at an early age, Fern becomes Mammy's trusted assistant in a quaint rural village and learns through experience that secrets are precious, passion is dangerous, and people should mind their own business.

But when one of Mammy's patients allegedly dies from an induced abortion, the town rallies against her. As Fern struggles to save Mammy's good name, she finds communion with a bunch of hippies living at a nearby estate...where she uncovers a legacy spotted with magic -- one that transforms her forever.

A tale of alchemy and tragedy, magic and truth, Joyce's The Limits of Enchantment is a powerful blend of literature and fantasy from a master of the genre.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:31 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"Everything Fern Cullen knows she's learned from her Mammy - and none of it's conventional. Taught midwifery at an early age, Fern grows up as Mammy's trusted assistant in a small English village and learns through experience that secrets are precious, men can't be trusted, hippies are filthy and people should generally mind their own business." "But when one of Mammy's patients allegedly dies from a potion prescribed to induce abortion, the town's people rally against her outdated methods, and Mammy ends up hospitalized, due to a bad fall and a broken heart. Now the county is threatening eviction if Fern can't come up with the overdue rent, and a bunch of hippies and a woman with hoop earrings with a mysterious connection to Mammy seem to be the only people with any answers. As Fern struggles to save her home and Mammy's good name, everything around her begins to transform, and she soon uncovers a legacy spotted with magic." "The Limits of Enchantment is at once a story of two women: one with a deep past and one who finds her history in the other. It is a tale of midwifery, alchemy, magic, truth and identity."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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