I’d be rightfully fucking pissed off to if Irish bastards stole my house and cursed me to Hell! For all Peadar O’Guilin’s novel does right, displacement and genocide is the one thing it flounders on.
I’m not much of a young adult literature reader. At least, I wasn’t. I read The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, and if you’re not familiar, it goes like this: between the ages of like twelve to sixteen, at some point you’re gonna wake up naked in The Grey Land.
The Grey Land is populated by evil fairies who want to kill the shit out of you, and you have to survive a day in their world; three minutes in ours. It’s a book with some interesting ideas and spins on Irish folklore, but I found myself fixated on one aspect alone—the antagonists, the Sidhe.
The Sidhe are beautiful fairy people who never break their promise, and populate the alien world of the Grey Land. However, the Sidhe are not native to that Land.
Thousands of years before our story takes place, the Irish showed up with weapons. O’Guilin makes it crystal clear that the Irish set off the actions that would begin the war between their people, by invading the Sidhe lands.
The invaders forced the fairy-folk from their own villages, their homes, and essentially threw them in Hell, The Grey Land.
In the Grey Land, the Sidhe were forced to adapt or be killed by their new hostile environment. They could never go back to their home, the “Many Colored-Land” again. Cruelly, ‘windows’ exist in the Grey Land; basically, portals reflecting life on Earth.
Likely, those Sidhe who defected and did not go to the Grey Lands were killed, and the Irish people, the colonizers, spent generations in the sun and beauty of nature while the Sidhe were left to rot.
Nobody:….Me: The Sidhe did nothing wrong
I don’t know if this was Peadar’s intention, but, as a person who has been displaced and mistreated by colonizers, I found myself siding with the Sidhe…probably more than I should’ve.
Not saying that we should go around and stab teenagers, or making excuses to the shit, awful things these bastards have done (like turning people into flesh suits) but, besides their creepy, smiley disposition, you gotta admit they have a right to be a little ticked off. In fact, I think they were mildly justified in their revenge against the people who damned them to eternal hell.
Yes, killing kids and changing them into flesh monsters is terrible, but I think I would’ve rightfully been pissed off myself if someone stole my home and made me live in Irish Hell for eternity.
O’Guilin with the fake-out
I would’ve liked the book so, so much more if O’Guillen could’ve reconciled the two races. Once in a while, he frustratingly seems to allude to a truce between the Sidhe and the humans.
O’Guilin touches upon this in a section of the book, about at the halfway mark. One of the professors acknowledges that, while the Sidhe have done evil and cruel things to the Irish people, the Irish are not innocent. They have blood on their hands as well.
The same character touches upon forgiveness and concedes to his furious class of students that, in order for the Call to stop and the fog to lift, the Sidhe must forgive them first.
They must understand the Sidhe in order to end the war between their two people. And it’s such a beautiful sentiment, colonizers and colonized finally recognizing each other for the betterment of both groups, and O’Guilin takes that idea, takes a big ol’ shit on it and throws it out of the window.
Arguably, the Irish atone for their sins via the Call, but they never acknowledge their role in the war.
I get it, to an extent; touching on topics of genocide and displacement are heavy themes for a Young Adult novel. But so is child death, which O’Guilin managed to write. So is the loss of someone you loved.
So is waiting in anticipation, knowing that at any moment you can be killed. For all the things I liked in this book, the handling of the Sidhe was just something that I couldn’t shake.
The Call and its shitty brother, The Invasion
By the end of the second novel, the Sidhes are still without redemption. I was hoping the Invasion would give us some insight into the Sidhe race. If there was anything sympathetic about the Sidhe to be found, it was squashed by the ending of the sequel.
The Invasion ends as the Grey Land’s hold over Ireland lifts, symbolizing that the two worlds—earth and Grey Land—are no longer connected. For all his wonderful and horrifying imagery, it was a shame that the novels ended so…anticlimactically.
So I guess my question would be: if you can’t handle colonization in a good way, why even include it? It’d be one thing if Guilin kept the backstory of the Sidhe race mysterious, but he alludes to their genocide and displacement at Irish hands many times in the novel. Too many times.
So many that you think something is going to happen with that, and it simply never comes. It’s a little gripe I had with a book that was, by-and-large, pretty damn enthralling and kept me interested, and despite my complaints, I recommend to give a read.