REVIEW: Freakslaw by Jane Flett

Jane Flett’s debut, Freakslaw, is an odd duck. Revelling itself in the weird (and sometimes non-sensical), this circus-set novel is more Stephen King than wholesome family entertainment. It’s not quite a horror novel or a straight-forward fantasy novel. Just like its characters, Freakslaw refuses to be neatly categorised. While very different in details, it reminds me of Heather Parry’s Orpheus Builds a Girl, genre-wise – literary, experimental and creepy with a strong narrative voice. There are supernatural elements to the story, though they are incidental. At its heart, Freakslaw is a glimpse into its inhabitants, into how the circus interacts with the people on its periphery.

Cover of FreakslawFreakslaw is set in the Scotland of the 1990s. A strange circus – the Freakslaw – lands in Pitlaw, a small town, confronting it with the queer and unusual. There is Gloria, teller of fortunes and story, her daughter Nancy, a contortionist, both witches. Gretchen, drag performer and self-proclaimed “gender pest” and a young woman only known as Pin Gal, a literal human pincushion among many more. They are unpredictable, and break the collective mind of Pitlaw’s inhabitants. Still, they fascinate the town’s younger generation, especially Ruth, a good and studious girl and Derek, a boy on the cusp of adulthood and discovering his sexuality. All characters are darker (and more broken) than they seem at first glance, working as both overarching archetypes and personal examples of how small, conservative towns handle difference.

The novel chafes up against society. It is at times uncomfortable, certainly not an easy read. Freakslaw has a strong narrative voice, an all-knowing narrator telling the story in fragments, jumping perspectives and playing with how much to tell the reader. In that, it fits in nicely with the trend for experimental, quiet and creepy horror-adjacent novels. While there are supernatural elements to this, it is more concerned with the human. Its 1990s setting combined with the strange brought by the Freakslaw works well to highlight how many of the social issues faced haven’t progressed in almost thirty years. It allows Flett to hold a mirror to the reader, using its setting as an unfamiliar world, a reverie of sorts.

Did I enjoy Freakslaw? The honest answer is “I’m not sure”. To me, it’s a novel more interesting than enjoyable, one that demands attention and reflection of the reader. It is one that I am forcing my friends to read just so we can discuss it. And that’s a great place to be as a debut author.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.

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