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Far from the bustle of London and out on the moors stands a grand old estate called Foxlowe. Its ballroom and staircases are in contrast to an ancient ring of stones that create an optical illusion on the summer solstice. Once the home of a wealthy family and surrounded by lush gardens, Foxlowe was later inherited by one of the family’s children and became the retreat of a cult-like commune and the sight of years of brutal abuse of three children. The house is the looming physical and symbolic center of Eleanor Wasserberg’s debut novel, FOXLOWE.

Living in Foxlowe are a small group of individuals who have left their conventional lives and their given names behind. They are artists and craftspeople who pool their resources in order to spend their days creating, gathering herbs, tending goats, making love and drinking wine. But the Family, as they call themselves, have a darker heart than they are willing to admit. Led by a narcissistic, temperamental and violent woman named Freya, the Family is raising two children, October and Green. Small infractions against the rules and values of the Family, be they real or perceived, are punished harshly by Freya. Most chilling of the punishments is perhaps the Spike Walk, where the children are forced to walk up and down a hallway riddled with nails that tear and scratch their skin until they bleed.

"It is a dark and stormy night kind of book that tackles some complicated emotional themes as the victimized Green is debilitated by both abuse and her love for her abusers."

October, called Toby, was brought to Foxlowe as a small boy by his desperate teenage mother Valentina, and Green is Freya’s daughter. Toby and Green are barely fed or dressed, are never sent to school or taken to a doctor, and are told to be wary of anyone from outside of Foxlowe, the grounds of which they are not allowed to leave. The level of neglect they experience means that the two rely on each other, emotionally and physically, for comfort, safety and unconditional love. Their bond protects them against the danger of the Bad and the pull of the Leavers, but mostly make life just a bit more tolerable.

When Freya returns to Foxlowe after a very brief absence with a newborn baby, Green’s life is even further complicated. She names the infant Blue and almost immediately offers it to the Bad, the elemental evil that lurks outside Foxlowe. Blue remains with the Family, though, and grows into a girl who constantly rebels and challenges Freya. As they grow older, Blue increasingly becomes the target of Freya’s anger and abuse, and Green’s relationship with both grows increasingly complicated and fraught. Even her loyalty to Toby, the one person who really looks out for her, is tested against her loyalty to Freya.

Page by page, Wasserberg builds the tension. Freya is a ruthless and manipulative villain, and with her in charge, Foxlowe has become a sinister house in the tradition of gothic literature. And while there are some key reveals, some heartbreaking, others terrifying, many secrets remain at the end of this short novel. There is so much violence and pain and terror here, but the prose itself is steeped in the magical and mystical as Wasserberg allows Green’s story to express itself in the strange jargon and cadence of the Family. Wasserberg creates a jarring disconnect between what Green believes, understands and experiences, and the reality represented by Freya and the other adults, all either cruel or apathetic. The result is a creepy page-turner.

FOXLOWE is a disturbing tale of both family and the creation of self as Green is unable to do the latter because of her life with the former. It is a dark and stormy night kind of book that tackles some complicated emotional themes as the victimized Green is debilitated by both abuse and her love for her abusers.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on April 7, 2017

by Eleanor Wasserberg

  • Publication Date: April 4, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Gothic, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 014311185X
  • ISBN-13: 9780143111856