Thursday, 9 June 2016

Review: 'Foxlowe' by Eleanor Wasserberg

Something about family relationships is absolutely fascinating. We are defined by our families and yet we are also constantly trying to somehow get away from them. We try to become our own people and yet can't ever let fo where we came from. Seeing this problematised and explored in fiction is one of my favourite things so I knew I wanted to read Foxlowe the moment I saw it. Thanks to Harper Collins and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 02/06/2016
Publisher: Harper Collins, 4th Estate
A chilling, compulsive debut about group mentality, superstition and betrayal – and a utopian commune gone badly wrong. 
We were the Family, and Foxlowe was our home. There was me – my name is Green – and my little sister, Blue. There was October, who we called Toby, and Ellensia, Dylan, Liberty, Pet and Egg. There was Richard, of course, who was one of the Founders. And there was Freya.

We were the Family, but we weren’t just an ordinary family. We were a new, better kind of family. We didn’t need to go to school, because we had a new, better kind of education. We shared everything. We were close to the ancient way of living and the ancient landscape. We knew the moors, and the standing stones. We celebrated the solstice in the correct way, with honey and fruit and garlands of fresh flowers. We knew the Bad and we knew how to keep it away. And we had Foxlowe, our home. Where we were free.

There really was no reason for anyone to want to leave.

This novel immediately succeeds in making its readers uncomfortable. And I mean that as a compliment. Some books are meant purely for fun and for entertainment, to take their readers' minds off of their everyday lives. But some books are written in order to shake their readers up, to set off that little alarm bell in the back of our heads and wake us up. Family is always a sensitive topic and therefore stories about family will always hold our interest. The family at Foxlowe is made up of typical family members, the Mother, the Father, the Children, etc. and yet the family relationships are incredibly tightly wound. On the one hand they're all closer than family and yet they are not. Written from the perspective of a child, the reader can still sense all the tensions running through Foxlowe, how the adults are battling each other and how the children are stuck in the middle. It's always difficult for a novel to find a common ground between writing from the perspective of a child without dumbing everything down.There is the typical child language, as well as seemingly strange cult-subs In the case of Foxlowe Wasserberg manages this by writing in retrospect, letting Green tell us her story both then and now. There is nothing immature about her and yet we can see a childish innocence in her as well. It makes Green a very interesting main character.

In the end Foxlowe is about the stories we tell each other and ourselves. Stories about our origins and our purpose, and especially the stories that parents and children tell each other. Communes and cults seem to be a thing in fiction at the moment. This is the second book I've read about them this month and I've got at least one other coming up. The popularity of this trope, I think, lies in that people continue to be fascinated by the stories we tell ourselves and the things we are willing to do in order to keep believing in our stories. The story of Foxlowe the novel and Foxlowe the building is really interesting, the way in which the pagan and mystical elements feel so natural and yet there is the constant undertone that something isn't right. Story-telling should be subversive and the reader should be questioning themselves and the plot. At times Wasserberg leaves a little bit too much up in the air, never making concrete certain things that I'm now curious about, but maybe that's part of the magic as well.

Wasserberg's writing is stunning. She makes Green into a fascinating person, twisting around what the reader may expect of her, and of the other people populating Foxlowe. The novel is split up into two parts and Wasserberg makes the difference between the two feel credible, makes the outside and the inside feel like they're worlds apart. At times parts of Foxlowe may stretch what is credible for 21st century readers but since the novel is set in the '90s it also sketches an interesting portrait of the previous century. The way in which Wasserberg creates Foxlowe for the reader, how she describes the rooms, the atmosphere, the magical Solstice gatherings, it's all beautiful and makes the novel what it is. You can almost imagine yourself living there, how perfect it maybe could be. And that's where the seductive danger of Foxlowe lies.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

I absolutely loved Foxlowe, partly due to its beautiful writing and because of its interesting plot. Non-linear, non-chronological plots are fascinating, if executed well, and it works perfectly in Foxlowe. I'd recommend this novel to fans of Magical Realism and Literary Fiction.

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