Title: The Folk Keeper
Author: Franny Billingsley
Publisher: Atheneum (US)/ Bloomsbury (UK)
Publication Date First edition: 1999/ New edition: April 2011
Paperback: 176 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Corinna Stonewall is fifteen years old and an orphan. She is also Rhysbridge Foundling Home’s Folk Keeper – a difficult and dangerous job which consists of looking after and controlling ‘the Folk’ – spiteful, maverick, savage creatures who live in the cellar and will only be prevented from spoiling the milk, terrifying the livestock and other disruptions by gifts of cream, salt pork and similar luxuries. But there are many questions about Corinna. Who are her parents? Why does her hair grow two inches a night? Why is she always drawn to the sea and long for the sweet taste of fish?
How did I get this book: Review copy from Bloomsbury.
Why did I read this book: I read and LOVED Chime, the new book by this author. As soon as I finished it, I emailed the publisher and begged for a copy of The Folk Keeper which is being reissued this month.
Corinna Stonewall is a 15 year old-orphan and the Folk Keeper of Rhysbridge Foundling Home. Her job is to keep the (ravenous, malicious, terrifying) Folk away. Every night in the Cellar, she pacifies the Folk with the gift of food and in that Cellar, as she controls the Folk, she is queen of the world. It is a tough job, but one which brings her some measure of power and control over her life. So much so, that she chose to become a Folk Keeper by shedding part of herself and keeping it secreted away: for to the world, Corinna is Corin, a boy, the only way to become a Folk Keeper, a traditionally male position. But that is not her only secret – or her Powers as she thinks of them. Corinna knows the exact time without a watch and her hair grows two inches every time she sleeps.
This book is her account, written in the Folk Record and it follows her story, as she writes it and as she is taken from the orphanage to Cliffsend, a grand estate of the Northern Isles. There, she is to be their new Folk Keeper; there, she is to discover many secrets about the estate and about herself; there, she is to find out about other parts of her hidden away, and about her Powers and about friendship and even, love.
Now, after reading this book, I have only one question hammering inside my head: where have I been that I missed this book? Because The Folk Keeper is absolutely, absurdly lovely.
It is a well-crafted retelling of a folk legend (which one, I shall not say, for it would spoil the fun) and its strong points are many: from the incredible prose to the vivid imagery; from the amazing, unusual protagonist to its many subtle facets.
The prose is so quirky and different and original! And with it combines with the imagery so intrinsically and so perfectly, it is hard to think of the one without the other and both are awe-inspiring:
It is true that I can trip over anything and nothing – a speck of dust, a patch of sunlight, an idea. I move through life like a person with one eye, through a landscape that looks flat, but is really tricked out with hidden depths and shallows. It didn’t use to be so, but no matter. I navigate the world well enough in my own way.
And what way! Corinna is a girl with thick skin: hardened by life, determined to do better for herself. Her choice to become a boy and a Folk Keeper comes from observing that her life as girl would be one of hardships and exploration – better to have a measure of control, and a measure of power. And mind you, she gets there by cheating and lying. It is wonderfully refreshing to see an unapologetically determined heroine who revels in the things that she can do. She knows it is a tough world and only the strong survive. That has of course, resulted in quite possibly a much thicker skin than might be necessary in her new life but as part of her character arc, there is learning and growing up to be had.
This brings me to those aforementioned subtle facets. They are represented in the way that gender differences are observed and explored; in the way that choice and ideas and identity are all involved in Corinna’s journey and are even smartly mirrored in the journal entries as well. Because of this subtlety, The Folk Keeper is most certainly not a book to be skim-read for there are clues in the most minuscule of the sentences, in the smallest line, in the quickest thought. Don’t let the deceptive look of the book fool you. The Folk Keeper might present itself as a thin, lean package but just like Corinna, it has hidden depths. And I am not even going to mention the romantic aspects of the novel. They are not centre stage but they are lovely and develop beautifully from friendship to love, which to me, is the best kind of love story.
Franny Billingsley burst into my life last week, when I read her most recent book, Chime, loved it and proceeded to read The Folk Keeper immediately. All I can say is: there is now a new spot on my Keeper Shelf. Welcome to my life, Franny Billingsley. I am sure you are here to stay.
Notable Quotes/Parts: An interaction with Finian:
”I am only a Folk Keeper, but I do as I like.”
“Tell me how to do that!” said Finian.
I shrugged. I’d already said too much.
“Quite right,” said Finian. “Why tell me for nothing? I propose an exchange.” He was teasing and not teasing, all at once. “Tell me how to get what I want. Tell me that I can get what I want. I’ve almost lost all hope. Fill me with words of…” He paused.
“Conviction,” said Finian. “I like that. You give me a Conviction every few days, to keep my spirits up.”
“What do I get in return?”
“Name your price,” said Finian.
“Secrets,” I said.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection
Reading next: Rage by Jackie Kessler
Buy the Book: