Monday, 11 April 2011
Review: The Folk Keeper by Franny Billingsley
Released: April 4th, 2011 (orig. 2003)
Grade rating: B/B+
Corinna Stonewall is fifteen years old and an orphan. She is also Rhysbridge Foundling Home's Folk Keeper - a difficult and dangerous job which consists of looking after and controlling 'the Folk' - spiteful, maverick, savage creatures who live in the cellar and will only be prevented from spoiling the milk, terrifying the livestock and other disruptions by gifts of cream, salt pork and similar luxuries. But there are many questions about Corinna. Who are her parents? Why does her hair grow two inches a night? Why is she always drawn to the sea and long for the sweet taste of fish?
The Folk Keeper is a beautifully written, unusual novel that I hadn't heard of until just recently, thanks to the author's new novel, Chime, also being published this month. It's one that took me a while to get into properly, thanks to its somewhat unconventional plot and unanswered questions that never seemed to be addressed. By the time I'd finished it, I realised that part of its charm was the way we don't know when it's set or that we never find out for sure what the Folk are - whether they're spirits, fey or some other evil creature - and that that's okay. I'm still wondering what they were, and I think I'm going to go with ghosts. Very hungry, nasty ghosts!
Corinna started off as quite a puzzling character. She has been pretending to be a boy for the last few years in order to be a Folk Keeper, as girls aren't thought to be able to do carry out that particular duty. She had a way with convictions and secrets, found herself drawn to eating live fish and possessed a head of hair that grows two inches every night. Her story unfolded nicely throughout the novel, and it wasn't until near the end that her true heritage became clear. Billingsley also included a sweet, innocent thread of romance for Corinna, which fitted in well and never seemed out of place.
Billingsley's writing and prose was lovely to read, and her sentences sparked brilliant visuals in my head. I felt like I was right there in the sea or on the rocks with Corinna, or in the cellar with the creepy Folk people. There was definitely a gothic undertone to this novel, and it reminded me very much of when I first read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. They're completely different, of course, but both made me live in the detailed descriptions and dark atmosphere.
The Folk Keeper is a relatively short novel, and my only real complaint is that it could have been longer. Just as I finally found myself fully immersed in Corinna's diary entries and her looming choices, it ended. It was left wide open with room for a sequel should the author ever want to revisit the story, but whether she will or not remains to be seen. I enjoyed it though, and I'm really glad I got the chance to read it. It was unexpected and surprising, and now I can't wait to read Chime!