Tom and Clara are two struggling academics in their mid-thirties, who decide to take their first holiday in ten years. On the flight over to Indonesia, Tom experiences a debilitating panic attack, something he hasn’t had in a long time, which he keeps hidden from Clara. At the resort, they meet Madeleine, a charismatic French woman, her Australian partner, Jeremy, and five-year-old son, Ollie, and the two couples strike up an easy friendship.
The holiday starts to look up, even to Tom, who is struggling to get out of his own head. But when Clara and Madeleine become trapped in the maze-like grounds of the hotel during 'the fogging’ - a routine spraying of pesticide - the dynamics suddenly shift between Tom and Clara, and the atmosphere of the holiday darkens.
Told with equal parts compassion and irony, and brimming with observations that charm, illuminate, and devastate, The Fogging dives deep into what it means to be strong when your foundation is built on sand.
On a plane to Indonesia for a holiday that struggling academics Tom and Clara really can’t afford, Tom experiences a sudden and intense panic attack (not his first) while his on-and-off partner of fourteen years sleeps by his side. By the time they land in Denpasar, Tom has calmed himself down and Clara awakens none the wiser. During their stay at a resort in Sanur, the couple meet Madeleine, Jeremy, and their five-year-old son, Ollie. Madeleine and Clara bond quickly, especially over their dismay that the resort regularly sprays pesticide, otherwise known as ‘the fogging’. During the holiday, Tom reflects on a previous overseas working trip that he and Clara took ten years ago in their mid-twenties, as well as elements of his working and family life that have contributed to his anxiety over the years.
The Fogging by Luke Horton is dense in its themes and ideas. Mental health, human behaviour, family history, career pressures, our reliance on technology (with some clever jabs at our obsession with apps) and relationship dynamics are all significantly addressed in just over two hundred pages. The novel is vivid in its description without being florid, especially when describing Tom’s panic attacks. By breaking the attacks down, we can understand their physical and mental toll on Tom and the way they make him feel isolated and helpless. Additionally, by moving back and forth in time, the relationship between Clara and Tom in the present is given much more weight and complexity.
The book finishes strongly with a revelation that puts previous events in a new light and makes the ending of the book one of the most devastating I have experienced in recent memory. The Fogging may be set a few years before 2020 but a lot of what it has to say about anxiety, emotional triggers, and the importance of communicating with each other is well observed and uncannily timely.
Amanda Rayner is the returns officer at Readings Carlton.
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