Folk by Zoe Gilbert

The literary equivalent of blackberry wine drunk outdoors under the trees

Book Review by Clare Mulley | 02 Mar 2018
  • Folk by Zoe Gilbert
Book title: Folk
Author: Zoe Gilbert

Unlike most isolated stories we know from collections, this is a story in which hearsay, tales and the supernatural are simply part of the warp and weft of community life. Folk's plotline spans several years and a couple of generations in one island community – Neverness – where each individual has their own story and struggles. A boy who meets his end in a yearly ceremony, a girl who is carried away by a water creature, a selkie’s stepchild, a frustrated man born with one wing where his arm should be and a girl who fashions a fiddle from the bones of her dead aunt all find their place in its pages, tucked alongside simpler tales of building homes and families.

The real strength of this novel is that, alongside the clearly mysterious aspects of life on Neverness, the characters concerned are every bit as caught up in more realistic everyday issues that would trigger a pang in most readers – unrequited love, guilt, peer-teasing and a child’s confusion over her pregnant and depressed mother.

Moreover, as is the way with community, none of the stories ‘end’ in the usual fashion, but take a new turning as those involved age and/or have children. All are executed with needle-precise phrasing and imagery, coupled with an almost melodic quality that flows into your brain and stays there like an old tune.

Dark, bittersweet and delicious, this breathtaking debut is the literary equivalent of blackberry wine drunk outdoors under the trees. A must-read for anyone into pagan folk tales, myths and legends.

Bloomsbury, 8 Feb, £14.99