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Folly (2001)

by Laurie R. King

Series: Folly Island (1)

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7771325,372 (4.07)27
Tragedy and mental illness have been dark companions of Rae Newborn for more than 50 years. Her life seems to start rebuilding itself, though, when she moves to a deserted island to restore the house her mysterious great-uncle built in the 1920s.

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» See also 27 mentions

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I had a hard time getting into this story at the beginning. I had no expectations or knowledge about the book, the author or the story. But the early chapters are dark. They deal with a protagonist Rae who has landed on an island known as Folly Island by the local folks. Her past is a little murky, but it is clear she has survived a personal tragedy with serious mental health repercussions. We are immersed in her hallucinations as she tries to settle into a camping life on the edge of this island and dig into a house building project. She startles at the slightest sound, and the sounds of nature are all around because the island is a bird sanctuary. She imagines there are watchers as night noises from the forest torment her, branches that snap, the slow speech of trees swaying in the wind, creaking and groaning as they move arthritic limbs.

Then we learn about her tragedy, how her husband and daughter are killed by a drunken driver and she is badly injured. How she returns to an empty house shattered and descends into a pit of despair. How she walks the countryside and then hides in the house each night, fearful of the watchers circling her property. How two young men attack and almost rape her one day and she finally ends up in a hospital for mentally ill patients where she slowly reclaims her life. It is so dark and unsettling that I almost didn't want to continue.

What made me keep reading was the setting and the image of a woman building her own wood house. I was intrigued by a female character with the skills to wield a chisel and hammer. A woman who could clear 80 years of debris and reclaim land. A strong woman who could hoist two-by-fours and make an elaborate work bench from an old door frame. I found this woman interesting. I found the solution to her madness to be interesting. She chose hard physical work and solitude. This island was her last stand. Either she was going to get past her mental health problems and the tragic loss of her family, or surrender on this 145 acre piece of land. The island of Folly was like a trench where she was defending her soul from the grief of world.

Here's what I truly liked about this book, once I got over the early darkness of the story. This story had everything. It wasn't a literary novel, but there were pearls of precious thoughts and ideas. The setting was a character in its own right. There was a parallel story involving her great uncle who had originally owned the island. He too was challenged in his mental health and sought sanctuary through the solitude and work of building the original house that Rae was trying to rebuild. He was tormented by the ghosts of fellow soldiers who were with him in the trenches during the first world war. He too loved wood and working with his hands. There are eighty years between the two stories, but the author weaves both together, and they intersect on this island. So the setting plays a key role, a point of cross-connection between the two characters.

In addition to the setting and a plot with a parallel story, there was mystery. Why had she been attacked by these two men? There was also romance. The local sheriff from San Juan seemed to take a liking to Rae and kept finding opportunities to stop by. There was a murder mystery as well. When Rae dug through the debris of the old house, she found the skeleton remains of her great uncle and learned he had been murdered.

A side story kept cropping up about women and children on nearby islands who were disappearing, only to be found several weeks later far away. How was this germane to Rae's story? We find out much later that the sheriff's younger brother has been living in a cave on the other side of the island and is part of an underground network that spirits away mothers and children who are being abused by a violent partner. So one of her imaginary watchers was real. This brother crept around the island at times and Rae heard the sound of his boat engine or spotted his footprint in the mud.

There is art and feminism. Rae is an unconventional woman who produces fine art in the form of furniture and is renowned for her work. And she likes to work hard. Despite being in her fifties and well off, she chooses this solitary, rustic life on the island. She lives in a tent, cooks on a fire and works hard to rebuild her great uncle's house. It's a very basic life. She has to channel water from a spring down to holding tanks and learn to take outdoor showers. I loved the eccentricity of this character. ( )
  CarolBurrows | Jun 25, 2021 |
  stephanie_M | Apr 30, 2020 |
My copy has no covers, so I had no idea what to expect. Took this as a holiday read in case I have to leave the book behind. Turned out to be an interesting read starting as a story of a mentally unstable woman who begins a building process that is not only about building a house, but also her mind and personality. Detours to family history, and towards the end the story turns into a full-on thriller. Very suprising and suspenseful, will look into the author. ( )
  Iira | Jan 13, 2019 |
Good change ( )
  kmajort | Feb 9, 2018 |
I like Laurie R. King and her books, particularly the Mary Russell series. That said, [Folly] is my favorite by far and I read it, or listen to the audiobook, every couple of years. King paints a vivid, utterly believable story. I love the whole idea that the main character, Rae Newborn, has been to hell through grief and mental illness. She feels battered and tumbled and finally decides to make a stand. She sets off to rebuild a house on an island in the San Juan Straits. The novel is a story of reclamation on many levels. With King at the helm, the story takes interesting and suspenseful turns, and finally delivers a satisfying resolution to the plot line. ( )
  pmackey | Jun 5, 2013 |
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Tragedy and mental illness have been dark companions of Rae Newborn for more than 50 years. Her life seems to start rebuilding itself, though, when she moves to a deserted island to restore the house her mysterious great-uncle built in the 1920s.

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