May 29, 2016

Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg

Harper Collins Canada, June 2, 2016.


Four Stars


Foxlowe is the story of a utopian community gone wrong, and the lives of its members as they are pushed to their limits. It is told from the perspective of a child named Green, who has lived her whole short life in a house called Foxlowe. The novel is chilling right from the start – because Green does not know everything the adults are up to, neither do we. However, there are enough hints about the adults’ dangerous behaviour that we soon realize something is seriously wrong at Foxlowe.


The founders of Foxlowe – Freya, Richard and Libby – were seeking a new, better kind of family. The group is more important than anything in the outside world. If any member decides to abandon the community, they are forgotten by the family and become known only as “leavers.” The house that the group lives in was inherited by Richard, and he maintains equality to the other founders, but in fact it is Freya that takes charge of things most of the time. Although they begin the commune by working together, a clear current of jealousy runs between Freya and Libby, as they seem to share the role of wife to Richard.


The members of Foxlowe wish to follow ancient ways of living – they worship the nearby Standing Stones and celebrate the Solstice, which is a healing time for the community, no modern medicine needed. They keep the children in line by threatening them with the Bad, a force from the outside world that can be kept away by following the rules – but it can just as easily get inside the children and destroy them. Because we hear about their beliefs through Green’s youthful filter, it has the potential to be a true supernatural force. More likely it is simply a way to punish the children without taking any personal blame – it is ultimately an excuse for child abuse.


Two other children share the house with Green. One is Toby, a boy several years older than her. The other is Blue – she is brought to the house as a baby and no explanation is given about where she has come from. At first, Green is jealous of the new baby, but soon she takes Blue under her wing as a younger sister. The three have a seemingly idyllic childhood, although it is haunted by the threat of abuse. They are free to learn in the natural world, with no formal education. Because they have no outside perspective to compare their lives to, the children see their existence as normal – until Toby and Blue start plotting to escape.


Green is the strongest defender of Foxlowe and Freya, despite Freya’s penchant for coming up with new and unusual forms of punishment for the children. She values an experimental new way of living, but it is inevitably corrupted by human flaws. So much is left unsaid regarding the true mechanics of Foxlowe, making the story all the more disturbing and atmospheric. It has a gothic feel to it, and the house especially seems to exist outside of time and space.


When Green eventually leaves Foxlowe, as we know she must, she discovers startling new horrors in the outside world. She is finally free, but instead of a happy new life, she causes more damage to herself. In Green’s later life, it is revealed how Foxlowe eventually disintegrated, and the details are extremely disturbing. Foxlowe is an exploration of group mentality and the full extent of the horrors of which humans are capable. The house is haunted, but there is no need for ghosts – the human mind is dangerous enough.


I received this novel from HCC First Look in exchange for an honest review.

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