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The new novel Foxlowe is a creepy thriller about a child cultist. It will stay with you.

Foxlowe, by Eleanor Wasserberg Penguin Press
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Eleanor Wasserberg’s new novel Foxlowe is an insidiously creepy little book, modern in its understanding of psychology but purely Victorian gothic in its atmosphere.

It’s told by a girl named Green, who grows up in a decaying mansion called Foxlowe in the English countryside. She’s living in our time, but you couldn’t tell from the way her life works: Green is raised by a group that describes itself to Green as “the Family” and to outsiders as “a commune,” but which is clearly a cult. The Family isolates itself to avoid contact with the amorphous force it calls “the Bad,” so Green doesn’t know how to read, but she does know how to smoke pot without choking and how to do perform neo-pagan rituals that involve standing stones and ley lines.

And Green knows that if she ever steps out of line, a woman named Freya — clearly Green’s mother, although she never says so — will punish her viciously. Sometimes Green is starved, sometimes she’s shunned, sometimes she’s burned, and sometimes she’s forced to take a “Spike Walk” and trail her wrists over a series of jutting nails until she bleeds.

For Green, this is normal and to be expected: Freya, she believes, is only trying to keep the Bad from getting to her. Green loves Freya, and she thinks Foxlowe is the best place in the world. Her favorite game to play is All the Ways Home Is Better, in which she lists off all the things that makes Foxlowe superior to the outside world she’s never experienced.

Green’s naive voice — frank and straightforward even as she describes horrors — is heavily reminiscent of the child narrator of Emma Donoghue’s Room, but the setting, with its rotting house full of secrets and a shadowy and threatening woman flitting through it, is straight out of Shirley Jackson.

Foxlowe is dark, eerie, and compelling, all the way from its opening description of a Spike Walk through to its chilling conclusion. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it will stay with you.

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