Novels are uniquely placed to depict the interiority of a person, saving from obsolescence a particular entertainment that is unadulterated crack for some. Luke Horton’s debut, The Fogging, is a study in interiors. Academics Tom and Clara have been together on and off, mostly on, for 14 years. In their mid-30s, they still live in an undergraduate mess of unwashed dishes and piled clothes. Their life together has stagnated and their communication is poor. Narrator Tom suffers from anxiety, and Horton articulates with devastating precision the slow burn of Tom’s panic attacks across pages drenched in sweat.
The couple are holidaying in Indonesia when they meet Madeleine, Jeremy and little Ollie. The friendship between Clara and Madeleine blossoms but Tom takes longer to warm to the others. Moments give cause for Tom to reminisce about previous trips and other times together, scratching through memories to work out what went right and wrong. He isn’t enjoying being sociable and wants to read his book; Clara apologises for the poor quality of his small talk. At one point, Tom is thinking about how good he and Clara are together, but when Clara speaks, he thinks that the talking is “harshing the vibe”. It is one of many warning signs about the state of their relationship.
Much time is spent whirring around in Tom’s fractious mind with all its irritants. There is anxiety about the anxiety. The unbearable heat and humidity add to his discomfort, and Tom is so caught up in it that he often doesn’t notice what’s going on around him. Horton has written an exquisite, quiet novel of psychological disquiet. As readers, we don’t have access to Clara and what she is thinking but evidently there are problems, and there are frequent occasions when Tom isn’t wholly present – he’s contemplating past and future issues – and is unable to act.
Horton writes with fastidious accuracy about social mores and the confusion of manners. He looks closely at the way friendship can fall by the wayside, at the manner in which intimate relationships erode, at pervasive generational work issues, and at the vulnerable nature of sessional university teaching. This tightly wound novel lives on the precipice of a tidal wave of regret. Like fellow Melburnian Peggy Frew, Luke Horton – the guitarist in Love of Diagrams – is a musician with serious fiction-writing chops.
Scribe, 224pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 25, 2020 as "Luke Horton, The Fogging ".
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