Books

Freakslaw by Jane Flett review – dark comedy set on the edge of the mainstream

A travelling circus of so-called ‘freaks’ arrive and turn the lives of the locals in a small Scottish town upside down

Freakslaw cover

Berlin-based Scottish author Jane Flett’s macabre debut novel Freakslaw is set in a small Scottish town called Pitslaw in the 1990s, where a travelling circus of so-called ‘freaks’ arrive and turn the lives of the locals upside down. Most intrigued by these new arrivals are teenagers Ruth and Derek, who are drawn to the weird folk of the shows and the possibility of escape from their boring lives.

The conflict between locals and incomers is the backdrop here, and Flett does a great job of cranking up that tension as the story progresses. The author’s prose style is effervescent and full of energy, even when she’s eventually tackling some pretty weighty themes. Like Deliver Me, this is transgressive stuff that lives around the edges of the mainstream, but it has plenty of dark comedy running through its veins.

The juxtaposition of the dreary lives of the locals and the flamboyant exhibitionists of the circus is really well handled, and having grown up in a small Scottish town myself, I recognised the frustration and pettiness.   

With a large cast of characters handled skilfully by the author, the overall feeling of Freakslaw is a picaresque, Day-Glo nightmare of a book, a modern slice of folk horror that shows heaps of promise for the future.

Freakslaw by Jane Flett

Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist.

Freakslaw by Jane Flett is out now (Doubleday, £16.99) You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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