Folk is a collection of folklore or fairy tales about the inhabitants of Gilomre’s fictional village Neverness. It is possibly set in the eighteenth century, as a note at the end of the book describes how the font, Adobe Calson, was specifically selected because it was popular in the eighteenth century. The tales are frequently dark, and many do not have happy endings. They are a thought-provoking reflection on life and human nature.
Although each chapter contains a separate folk tale, the characters of Neverness reappear throughout the collection. It appears the collection spans a generation, as characters that appear as babies or children in early chapters, later appear as adults with their own children.
Initially I was reading Folk as I would read a novel, consuming a couple of chapters at a time, and I found myself confused at the end of most chapters. When I discovered that the second tale, Fishskin, Hareskin won the Costa Short Story Prize in 2014 I was surprised because I found this chapter confusing and it didn’t engage me. As I reflected on it, I realised that the mother, who had moved from a cottage in the woods to marry a fisherman, didn’t identify with her new home and couldn’t bond with her baby until she clothed it in a symbolic way that linked it to her heritage. The story whispered about identity, grief and loss, displacement, and attachment between a mother and her child. There was a lot more in it than I initially noticed.
As a result, I realised that each tale is to be read and considered like folk tales or fairy stories of old. They explore fundamental human desires and events that are crucial to survival, including love, jealousy, desire, shame, deceit, superstition, marriage, childbirth and death. There is one where the mother tells her daughters of an incident where she and her friends were incensed into a mob and behaved appallingly. In another a girl is humiliated by a fortune teller when she seeks to learn of her future, but later, when she is in the position of power, she chooses to make cruel predictions for those who come to her. In a third, a man sells an illusion that enables people to have something to live for, but it also becomes something they may choose to die for.