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Folk by Zoe Gilbert. Book review

February 11, 2018

Book cover for Folk

Folk is being marketed as a novel, but comes over more as a collection of short stories linked by the characters who live in the strange and remote island of Neverness. Zoe Gilbert plays with slightly different narrative voices to change perspective and the atmosphere of each chapter. This type of isolation means people spend their whole lives in close proximity. Because of this there is a sense in the characters of there being the same underlying frame of mind driven by the harsh environment and the traditions that bind them together, but that there is room for people to develop their own personalities. These are the subtleties the author brings out in her writing.

You are introduced to the island by approaching it from a wide focus, as if you are flying in low as you observe the different protagonists introduced in a type of coming of age ritual. This is one of the ways the inhabitants’ lives connect to the land and shifting seasons. You feel the salt spray, smell the dank, water-filled places, the reek of animals and smoke, as the natural world and island life is beautifully observed.

The writing really brings home the effort of living in such a remote and wild place, the type of hierarchies and interactions and the dependency on other people. Because everyone lives in such close proximity there is little privacy and children have to make sense of an adult world which is never properly explained to them. This can be particularly poignant and is something expressed well by the author.

The rhythm of the words and use of them makes Folk feel rather like a fairy story for adults, rather in the tradition of Angela Carter. The remoteness has brought about a way of life where there is a bleed between fey-type creatures who carry off maidens and those who might try to live the life of humans at great cost to them physically and mentally (think of Little Mermaid for adults). Although sometimes you just wonder whether there is a collective delusion to explain their harsh and sometimes tragic world to help the island folk come to terms with it. That not being sure really helps to maintain the tension through what is a skilfully sustained narrative which grows on you with each new story.

Folk was courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley.

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