From Bram Stoker and British Fantasy Award nominated author Gemma Amor comes an atmospheric gothic mystery that will haunt you long after the final page is turned. Morgan always knew her father, Owen, never murdered her mother, and has spent the last six years campaigning for his release from prison. Finally he is set free, but they can no longer live in the house that was last decorated by her mother’s blood. Salvation comes in the form of a tall, dark and notorious decorative granite tower on the Cornish coastline known only as ‘The Folly’. The owner makes them an offer: take care of the Folly, and you can live there. It’s an offer too good to refuse. At first the Folly is idyllic, but soon a stranger arrives who acts like Morgan’s mother, talks like her mother, and wears her dead mother’s clothes. Is this stranger hell-bent on vengeance, in touch with her restless mother’s spirit itself, or simply just deranged? And, most importantly, what exactly happened the night Morgan’s mother died? An atmospheric nod to The Lighthouse, with hints of Du Maurier’s Rebecca, played out on a lonely, Cornish backdrop, THE FOLLY is visceral mystery and family drama, a dark examination of love, loyalty, guilt and possession that draws on the very real horror of betrayal by those closest to us, by those we love the best.
If proof was ever needed that big things can come in small packages, look no further than The Folly by Gemma Amor. Within the span of under 200 pages, Amor manages to pen a tale that, quite frankly, still has my head spinning. A Gothic story, Morgan moves with her father to the Folly, a large tower on the coast that’s not easily accessible and is the subject of many a rumor regarding its dark nature. This move comes on the heels of Morgan’s father, Owen, being released from prison after being found not guilty for the death of his wife (Morgan’s mother) through a retrial. It’s also the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Morgan could use the money from looking after the Folly as well as keeping her father out of the public eye. All seems “okay” until something, someone, makes an appearance at the Folly. Someone who behaves an awful lot like Morgan’s deceased mother.
From the synopsis alone, this story checks a lot of boxes for me: Gothic, struggling father and daughter relationship, secluded location on the coast, and an unknown threat. Through these elements, Amor creates an incredibly robust atmosphere of mistrust, doubt, and ultimately fear. Without involving the setting at all, Morgan and Owen’s dynamic is fraught with unspoken tension given that Owen was arrested for the murder of Morgan’s mother, something they’ve never discussed clearly and outright. While Morgan has vehemently supported her father and his innocence, the arrangement of this story from the very first page breeds room for questions. How can she really know what happened that night when her mother was found bloody and broken at the foot of the stairs?
Speaking of stairs, the idea of gravity is a topic that’s suggested heavily in The Folly. Many readers and writers know the proverbial weight of words, but in Owen and Morgan’s situation, living secluded in the Folly, a greater sense of purpose can be placed on each and every utterance. Morgan questioning her father about that night or, even more severely, Owen telling his version of events carries the extreme potential to change the whole emotional ecosystem within the walls of the Folly.
“I thought again how strange it was that gravity had such a heavy pull here. Everything seemed to want to return to the earth, at speed, to destroy itself. Crockery. People. Maybe it was all those secrets, pulling everything down.”
Even more to this point, every word Amor writes seems remarkably intentional. There is a truly special quality to this style of prose in which so much emphasis can be placed on so few words to evoke a vivid atmosphere and unique characterization. While Morgan presents as clear-headed, responsible, and intact at the book’s beginning, her state towards the end oozes with fractured mistrust, suspicion, and borderline madness.
One of my favorite themes in horror is the idea that isolation can aid in accelerating a feeling of madness, especially when characters experience fear. This could not be truer for Morgan who becomes rattled by the arrival of the stranger. Some of the scenes involving this interloper are some of the most frightful situations I have come across in all of horror fiction. Amor reminds us that terror is in the minuscule details, the personal instances in which only we know something is wrong. This fear fuels the slow descent (ahem, remember, stairs) into madness; it thrives on feelings of mistrust between Morgan and her father following the actions and words of the stranger. Existing in a space of seclusion, both physically and emotionally, nothing becomes certain in the final pages of this story.
I absolutely adore this story for its darky, twisty meanderings and for how clever it is in its very existence. The entire plot exists due to isolation in the form of the pandemic, the location of the structure itself, and Morgan’s strained relationship with her father. Yet, in a book that’s built upon the blocks of keeping people secluded, its conclusion had me reaching for my phone, hoping to connect with someone, anyone, who also read this story so we could discuss what transpires. Moody, intelligent, and downright frightening in the truest sense, The Folly is an elusive, twisty story that will linger long after consumption.