Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 30, 2020

The Fogging, by Luke Horton

The unusual title for this novel derives from the author’s experience of it in Bali: ‘fogging’ is the routine spraying of pesticide to eradicate mosquitoes and other unwanted nasties such as cockroaches, from beachside resorts.  In the novel, it’s the catalyst for a relationship breakdown…

Tom and Clara are 30-something academics living a life of delayed adolescence, taking their first holiday together in ten years though they can’t really afford it.  At home, they’re still living in a ‘student-digs’ atmosphere of squalor, and it’s taken them both of them ages to get settled into steady employment.  The issue of having children has been postponed, (though after they meet another couple at the resort, there are signs that Clara might want a child).  (Horton doesn’t address the structural reasons for their situation i.e. insecure employment in the university sector.  That’s not his focus.)

At first Tom resents Clara’s interest in this other family at the resort, then he bonds with them too.  The days drift by in the claustrophobic heat, while Tom is plagued by his doubts and fears and petty jealousies.  The novel is told entirely from his point of view, and from the outset it’s clear that he is a very troubled man. What seems like narcissism, endless self-questioning and a preoccupation with analysing everything and everything, are symptoms of his extreme anxiety.  He has a panic attack on the plane despite using the strategies he’s been taught to control the anxiety, and these panic attacks — which have been more-or-less under control — seem to be triggered by his introspective responses to ordinary events and interactions, and since the narration is all about him, his wife Clara’s attitude to his behaviour remains opaque.

Flashbacks from Tom’s memories illuminate some of his issues, as, for example, when he suffers extreme anxiety in the early days of his teaching career.  The novel is extremely perceptive in depicting how debilitating this condition can be.  It demonstrates that it’s not a condition that can be easily concealed, which makes the reader wonder whether Tom was actually successful in concealing his panic attack on the flight, and what Clara thinks about it.  Because there’s no doubt that it’s embarrassing for both of them.

The novel also shows how isolating extreme anxiety can be, and how it impacts on relationships.

Both my parents suffered from anxiety as a consequence of WW2: they lived through the Blitz; and they lost friends and family to the war, especially my father who was orphaned by the time he was nineteen and had lost his brother and an aunt too.  My mother was claustrophobic all her life after being trapped underground in a bombed building, and my father was bombed out of his childhood home, which meant he lost — along with his home — all contact with his childhood friends and his teachers because he had to move away.  He had a terrible time as an evacuee too.  My earliest memories are situations in which my mother suffered anxiety that in retrospect seemed irrational and melodramatic — until as part of my professional development at school, I learned how ‘catastrophising’ is an aspect of anxiety and that the fear of losing loved ones was an entirely rational response to their traumatic experiences.  Helicopter parents probably don’t realise that they pass on their anxiety to the children, but our school trialled a program to teach children self-help strategies to control it.   I’m not ashamed to say that I benefited from learning these strategies too.

Aspects of Tom’s characterisation are irritating, but there’s purpose in his representation.  I found it strangely compelling but I’m not sure that everyone will.

Jennifer at Tasmanian Bibliophile at Large reviewed The Fogging too. 

Author: Luke Horton
Title: The Fogging
Cover design by Scribe
Publisher: Scribe Publishing, 2020
ISBN: 9781925849592, pbk., 213 pages
Review copy courtesy of Scribe Publishing.

 


Responses

  1. Thank you, Lisa, for such a thoughtful review (and for mentioning mine). It’s an interesting novel and I may revisit it one day because I spent much of my read trying to escape Tom’s anxiety in order to ‘see’ the world he was in.

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    • Yes, that is the experience of this novel. Clearly he is struggling to overcome his distorted view of the world…but it’s not like reading a typical ‘unreliable narrator’,…

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  2. The point about unreliable narrators is that we learn something from the way others respond to them. Is it a failing in this novel that the wife’s responses to Tom don’t tell us anything?

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    • It depends where you’re coming from, I suppose.
      The classic example is Lolita, where we have a sleazy unreliable narrator in Humbert and Lolita is silenced. But what we ‘learn’ from Humbert is how his mind works to justify what he is doing.
      I’m only guessing, of course, but I think if I were the author of The Fogging wanting to convey the totality of living with severe anxiety, and I experimented with including the wife’s PoV (and maybe others’ too), that would undermine the portrayal of Tom’s view of the world, i.e. showing that Tom, for all his self-analysis and attempts at interpreting the behaviour of others, sees the world only through his own lens. As a reader, you have to both surrender to Tom’s introspection and then step back from it.
      TBH I was not expecting to finish this book, it was one of those ones where I thought I would read the fair-go 50 pages and then abandon it, but it was strangely compelling. Maybe that was because I have the experience of my parents’, especially my father’s more severe anxiety.
      BTW How did you get on at the WA border??

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  3. I’ve seen a lot of praise for this book on social media but wasn’t sure if it would be my kind of thing but your review suggests that it might. I’ve had low-level anxiety my entire life but only came to understand that’s what it was a few years ago. I spent most of my early 20s hiding from the world and inventing excuses for not attending social functions / lectures etc anything that involved lots of people and having to interact with them. I have strategies for managing it now, worked out via trial and error over past 20 years, but I can’t imagine how debilitating it must be to suffer it in the way of your parents. Just mild anxiety is energy sapping.

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    • There’s a bit of a fad for writing about mental illness at the moment, but as far as I can tell, not many of them are novels. I think that, being fiction, this one manages to make the theme more compelling than memoirs … partly through its setting and partly through the flashbacks.

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  4. How interesting. I have children with anxiety of varying degrees and I know how crippling it can be for them. So to portray it accurately is quite an achievement…

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  5. […] brings me easily to a book I’ve read and reviewed this week: Luke Horton’s debut novel, The Fogging, and that me brings me back to thinking about how people with anxiety are coping in the pandemic.  […]

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