Book: Cunning Folk
Author: Adam Nevill
(This is a spoiler-free review)
Money’s tight and their new home is a fixer-upper. Deep in rural South West England, with an ancient wood at the foot of the garden, Tom and his family are miles from anywhere and anyone familiar. His wife, Fiona, was never convinced that buying the money-pit at auction was a good idea. Not least because the previous owner committed suicide. Though no one can explain why.
Within days of crossing the threshold, when hostilities break out with the elderly couple next door, Tom’s dreams of future contentment are threatened by an escalating tit-for-tat campaign of petty damage and disruption.
Increasingly isolated and tormented, Tom risks losing his home, everyone dear to him and his mind. Because, surely, only the mad would suspect that the oddballs across the hedgerow command unearthly powers. A malicious magic even older than the eerie wood and the strange barrow therein. A hallowed realm from where, he suspects, his neighbours draw a hideous power.
We don’t know why, but here at Happy Goat Horror we feel a kinship with Adam Nevill. We don’t know him personally, so perhaps it’s because he writes so well about dark and mysterious forces, of which we are very enthusiastic. Perhaps it’s because his own press, Ritual Limited, bears this beautiful and majestic graphic:
Yeah, that might be it. Have you ever seen such a handsome creature?
Anyway, we’re here to talk about CUNNING FOLK.
This novel is a beautifully written, masterfully-crafted, immersive, and satisfying experience. I always enjoy Nevill’s writing but he’s excelled himself with this particular offering, which could well be the best thing he’s written to date. There’s just something about his writing that makes me really see the story in a very unique way that no other writer has ever achieved for me. I defy anyone to dislike descriptions like this in a horror story –
“A few steps from the garden gate and she is swallowed, the wood closing its scaly lips behind her heels. She’s crossed over, is inside now.”
The story comes out of the gate swinging with family drama and stakes that are already high. Tom has taken a chance buying a fixer-upper, which his wife, Fiona, seems reluctantly supportive of. Knowing that Fiona is already anxious about the venture made me tense before any of the action even started, because if there’s anything that will split a couple up, it’s something like one of them sinking all of their cash into what seems like a lost cause, to the chagrin and constant stress of the other. The fact that I so quickly liked this couple and their daughter only made me more invested in their family, and their marriage. I loved Tom almost right away, and just wanted things to work out for him. But this is a horror novel, and not only a horror novel, but an Adam Nevill horror novel. Things just going well for Tom was never on the cards. I knew it but didn’t want to believe it, and so I had to keep reading.
The main conflict is between Tom and his next-door neighbours, the Moots – a pair so unwelcoming and superior in their attitude that I hated them as quickly as I loved Tom’s family. I was so angry reading every interaction with them that I thought of some terrible neighbours that we (at Happy Goat Horror) used to have. Ask any of the other goats – they’ll tell you all about those bloody sheep one field over. They’d trample through our carefully trodden paths and eat our grass, and then pretend they couldn’t understand our bleeting when we confronted them about it. And do you think they’d spare us even a patch of wool when the winter nights rolled around? Would they hell! We only ended up getting rid of them because one cold night they saw us lighting fires by shooting flames out of our eyes, and they were so spooked they were gone by morning. Sheep are extremely flammable, you see.
So anyway, the Moots are terrible but Fiona doesn’t want to rock the boat. However, Tom isn’t willing to begin neighbourly relations by rolling over for them because of the precedent it would set, and so things escalate. And then, otherworldly occurrences begin. I was quite scared reading certain parts of this story. It’s so creepy in places that my dead heart almost palpitated.
This book is such a page-turner because there are layers to the horror, and several smaller sub-plots running alongside the main one, and I cared about them all. I found myself simultaneously wanting to labour over every lovely sentence, and rush to the end because I was dying to know how it would all go, and the resolution did not disappoint.
Angry Goat says that I’m too enthusiastic, and demanded that I include some criticisms along with my infernal praise. But the book is perfect, I told him. He wouldn’t accept that and threatened to eat my black candles unless I came up with something, so here’s the one criticism I have, conjured because of duress – illumine. The word “illumine” keeps appearing in the back half of the book for some reason, I guess Nevill was just really into that word at the time of writing. It started to grate on me a bit by the end. But that’s it, my only criticism.
Cunning Folk is a folk-horror treat that I can’t recommend highly enough, particularly to fans of folk horror, the supernatural, and cults.
In the wise words of Nevill – Manes exite paterni!
To learn more about Adam and his other works, or to get your own copy of CUNNING FOLK, you can visit his website here:
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