Foxlowe, by Eleanor Wasserberg, is set in a community removed from the modern world yet unable to escape its draw. It is populated by artists and sculptors, and by three children named October, Green and Blue. The narrator is Green, the only member to have been born within the commune’s confines. She regards the other residents as her family and harbours a fear tinged with curiosity for life outside.
The children’s playground is the large and crumbling house where they live, the gardens where they grow food and keep livestock, and the neighbouring moorland close to standing stones from whence a double sunset may be viewed on the summer solstice. This event is a time of plenty and celebration. It is used to exorcise the bad and to heal.
From the beginning it is clear that a darkness exists within this closed community. There is cold and hunger, secrets and jealousies, ideals they are struggling to make work. Rules exist to insulate the residents from life outside, to drive out the bad they have left behind but which threatens to invade.
Those who choose to leave from time to time may never be talked of again. Personal possessions are discouraged yet desired. The children are being raised to value this way of life, the freedom it offers within self imposed confines. If they break the rules, let the bad in, they are burnt or bled to drive it out.
The story opens with the arrival of a baby girl. She will be named Blue and is looked after by one of the three founders, Freya. Green feels a special bond with Freya and begrudges the attention this invader demands. Thus begins a troubled relationship, sisters who will both love and hate one another.
Green accepts the rules, resenting the punishments but fearing both Freya and change. From an early age Blue refuses to be so compliant. As time passes and her punishments mount, so too does her desire to leave.
The children only have each other to mitigate the boredom of their unstructured days. They do not comprehend the cracks that are growing, threatening all they know. They muse over what the outside world may be like. When Blue seeks it she triggers a reaction that she cannot control.
The writing is masterful. From first page to last the horror of the children’s situation seeps through. By telling this tale from their point of view the reader can understand how such a skewed world could be created. When a situation becomes intolerable an adult may walk away. Children cannot. The scars inflicted run deep.
The dread that pervades leaves the reader in no doubt that the denouement will be shocking. I was still chilled when the detail was revealed. As all that had gone before became clear the author manages a final twist of the knife. It is gloriously unsettling.
There is much to ponder: the evils of the modern world; nature, nurture and spiritual beliefs; allowing parents freedom to raise their children as they see fit. This story may not be for the faint hearted but it is a cracking read. Enter Foxlowe if you dare.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Fourth Estate.