Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review: 'Folk' by Zoe Gilbert

Fantasy is my jam, and so are short story collections. When you combine the two you basically get a collection of awesome fairy tales, the kind of thing that allows you to steal away into a completely different world for some beautiful escapism. I have chased these types of books down relatively successfully, but clearly the Fates think I haven't done well enough because suddenly Folk appeared on my path. And God was it good! And how beautiful is that cover? Thanks to Bloomsbury Circus and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 08/02/2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus
Every year they gather, while the girls shoot their arrows and the boys hunt them out. The air is riddled with spiteful shadows – the wounds and fears and furies of a village year. 
On a remote and unforgiving island lies a village unlike any other: Neverness. A girl is snatched by a water bull and dragged to his lair, a babe is born with a wing for an arm and children ask their fortunes of an oracle ox. While the villagers live out their own tales, enchantment always lurks, blighting and blessing in equal measure. 
Folk is a dark and sinuous debut circling the lives of one generation. In this world far from our time and place, the stories of the islanders interweave and overlap, their own folklore twisting fates and changing lives. 
A captivating, magical and haunting debut novel of breathtaking imagination, from the winner of the 2014 Costa Short Story Award.
As I said, both Fantasy and short stories are my thing. My love for them started when I was very young. In my childhood home we had a shelf in the bookcase dedicated purely to fairy tales from all across the world. One of my favourite things to do was pick a book at random from this shelf and sink away into all these different stories that were somehow connected yet all independent as well. There is a magic to fairy tales that doesn't just come back to the actual magic in them. Rather, their magic lies in how they expand the mind, how they cast a different light on old issues, how they mix sweetness with bitterness and beauty with horror. Fairy tales don't explain themselves, at least not the original ones. There are morals there, sure, but you will have to find those for yourself. There is a sense of the ancient to them which nothing else really matches. Where do these stories come from? What inspired them and how do they still inspire? Because of their mysterious origins, fairy tales can belong to anyone and everyone.

In Folk, Zoe Gilbert tells us the stories of Neverness, a mysterious village on a remote island. Each story is told by a different character in the village. These characters come from all ages, different parts of the village and island and even from the different generations living there. This approach allows for Folk to create a sense of connection and tradition without having to info-dump the reader. Characters mentioned casually in one story will become the narrators of another. Events that take place in the foreground in one tale will be referenced in a later tale. Although this is perhaps confusing initially, it really pays off later on in the stories. There is no world-building as such, as one might expect. How did the island come about? Why do the people in Neverness seem so touched by magic? Where do their traditions come from? There are no clear answers to these questions, rather the stories just exist as they are, to be enjoyed as they are. I loved this about them because it allows you to sink into the beauty of each separate story without demanding more from it.

Zoe Gilbert's writing is beautiful. From the very first story she manages to infuse her writing with a sense of suspense , danger and beauty. As the reader gets accustomed to Neverness and its particular peculiarities, Gilbert consistently manages to conjure up a sense of magic and mystery. She moves seamlessly across the village and island, describing its stunning and powerful nature and the effects it has on the island's inhabitants. Her characters are sparsely but carefully drawn. You never get tired of her characters as she keeps their characterisation just subtle enough to make the reader think there must be more, to want to dig deeper. I'm wowed by the fact this is Gilbert's first fiction book, because the deftness with which she writes is masterful. Folk is also beautifully illustrated by Isobel Simonds, the author's aunt. They feel as ancient as the stories and are an incredible addition to the book. I can't wait to get my hands on a hard copy of this book in order to see how the illustrations and stories interplay.

I give this collection...

4 Universes!

I absolutely adored Folk. From the first story I was drawn in by Gilbert's mysterious island and its magical inhabitants. The stories are beautifully human despite the enchantment hovering just below their surface. I can't wait to read more from Zoe Gilbert! I'd recommend this to anyone interested in Short Stories and Magical Realism.

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