For The Guardian….

 

folk

Dark magic, superstition and foreboding ritual haunt this immersive portrait of the fictional village of Neverness

Folk by Zoe Gilbert

Benjamin Myers / The Guardian

Perhaps it is too easy to remark on the contemporary relevance of a novel about a self-contained island ruled by its own heavy history. Yet one can’t help but read Zoe Gilbert’s tale of the village of Neverness, an inward-facing society imprisoned by the sea, as a dark historical mirror held up to the harried face of modern Britain.

Though described as a novel, Folk is more a tapestry of character studies and fables untethered from time, each of which works both as incantation and allegory – one chapter, Fishskin, Hareskin, won the Costa short story award for 2014.

In Neverness, lives are tightly tied to tradition and myths are laid over one another, each part of the palimpsest a reminder that while we may now worship different deities or exist on a more diverse diet, we are still capable of falling foul of the same weaknesses – sloth, greed, desire – as our ancestors.

Folklore is the architecture of Neverness, a fecund world Gilbert brings alive through a tactile vocabulary that stirs all the senses. It is a pungent place of smoked fish and oxhide, of dimly lit dwellings rich with warm smells such as “burned porridge and sheep’s wool and chimney soot, and cold smells, like Father’s rainy boots, and muddy flagstones, and sodden thatch”. Objects can be illusory: fish scales take on a mystical quality, a fiddle evokes the spirit of a lost love, and “whimpery grey” webs of mist become a shawl for a baby born to an outsider and raised in a dank wet cleft of the shoreline. The accumulative effect perhaps most recalls Alan Garner’s odd poetic archaeology of place and psyche. Neverness could easily have been named Otherness…

 

Read the full review here.

 

Imprisoned by the sea … Douglas Head Lighthouse on the Isle of Man, which inspired Gilbert’s Neverness. Photograph: Alamy

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