The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue is one of those books that was blogged about quite a lot a couple of years ago. I read quite a few reviews, some loved it, some didn't, and some were halfway inbetween. I have a slight fascination with fairies and goblins or... as they're referred to in this book... hobgoblins. So I bought the book and, as often happens with me, it sat on the bookshelf, sad and neglected and crushed to death by the other 300 odd books on Mount Toobieread. Anyway, to cut a long story long it was, at last, time to read it - not for a challenge or anything like that, it was simply 'time'.
Henry Day is seven the day he runs away from home and hides in the woods. The incident is the perfect opportunity for the hobgoblin group, who have been watching him for some time with a view to creating a changeling, to kidnap him. He is snatched and a hobgoblin takes Henry's place and life in the world of humans. The real Henry becomes 'Aniday' and after initiation wakes up confused and disorientated. He is now a changeling, with a new life and new companions. He will take his place in the goblin heirarchy and, eventually, it will be his turn to 'change', but this could take a hundred years or more. As the years pass Aniday makes friends as well as enemies, but all the while he can't help wondering who he really is; sometimes he remembers parents, sisters, a past life, but it's all very hazy. Meanwhile the replacement Henry is living Henry's life. His position in his new family is shaky. He discovers a talent for music and his mother adores him for this; his father doesn't and senses something's not right, distancing himself from the fledgling genius his son has become. And all the while the new Henry, while distancing himself from the hobgoblin group he has left, is also uneasy about where his musical talent has come from. He sets out to discover who he was in his previous life, before he became a changeling in the 1800s. What he discovers is a shock and will bring him back into contact with the one whose life he stole.
I think I might have been expecting a bit more of a fairytale than this story actually is. More of a fantasy story perhaps but this book is not actually that kind of thing. Yes, there is a hobgoblin group who are weird and wonderful but this is no Lord of the Rings kind of tale. It's much more of a human story about fitting in and being 'normal', whatever that is. Human relationships play a big part, how we and our parents deal with raw talent, is it always a good thing? And it's also about growing up and falling in love and how that's affected by an obsession, because both Henry and Aniday are obsessed, in their different ways, with finding themselves.
I liked this book an awful lot. Each successive chapter is told, first from 'Henry's' pov, and then Aniday's, and for me this worked well. It was almost like a series of short stories that charted scenes from both their lives. I cared very much what happened to both and found their respective journeys fascinating; Aniday's compulsion to write down his life history for instance, or Henry's need to go to Germany to further his own investigations. The story itself is beautifully written, gorgeous descriptions of the forests of - I think - Pennsylvania and the way in which progress and urbanisation affects the land. This book will stay with me for a while and might even make it onto my favourite books of the year list.