I’ve never been a big horror reader. I’m too easily frightened to find much pleasure in adding fictional terrors to the real shadows I’m already jumping at every time I move, breathe, or catch a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye. And yet, this year I find that all I want to read about is darkness. I don’t precisely understand this phenomenon, though I suspect it’s something to do with the way that fiction can help us process reality at a safe remove. Maybe that’s why I found Rookfield impossible to put down. Or maybe it’s just that White’s novella is absolutely fantastic.
The most compelling folk horror creates a contrast between something terrifying and otherworldly that nonetheless offers a certain cozy appeal and something real and normal that is completely repellent and, just maybe, even more terrifying. Great folk horror tends to portray circumstances so pleasant that they force readers, viewers, and characters to at least consider the possibility that a little sacrifice here and there just might be worth it. The world of Rookfield takes this tendency and runs with it, contrasting the all-too-real horrors of domestic abuse and COVID-19 denial with something eerie and inexplicable that, though disturbing, seems like it may genuinely improve the lives of people in a picturesquely insular town.
Rookfield possesses many gripping features, but, for me at least, the tensions between characters stand out as particularly meaningful signposts for how readers ought to react. It’s hard—perhaps impossible—not to root for the citizens of Rookfield, no matter how creepy they seem at times, every time the plot sets them in opposition to the detestable main character. There are several reasons this book might make readers stay up too late, on the edge of their seats (in all seriousness, it’s so scary I kept feeling my legs tense in readiness to run), because they just have to know how the narrative plays out; perhaps the most crucial reason is that it never loses sight of who the real villains in life most unquestionably are.
I wasn’t particularly familiar with Gordon B. White’s work before he sent me a review copy of this novella following a chance encounter on Twitter (see above re me not typically being much of a horror fan). I had, I think, read only one of his stories (a charmingly creepy little piece in Nightmare magazine). However, the overall quality of Rookfield’s prose—the excellent flow of its sentences, paragraphs, internal logic—ensures that I’ll be seeking out more of his writing while I’m in this unprecedented mood for horror.