Published by Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: September 4, 2018
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Junior and Henrietta live on a small farm. They are isolated from everyone, but close to each other. When Terrance arrives and tells them that Junior has been selected to participate in a program building a much-needed space community they are puzzled by the news, but accept Terrance’s assurances that it is an amazing opportunity. He tells them they have two years before Junior needs to leave, but that he will be gone for years after that. Which is not great, except he promises that modern technology means Henrietta won’t be left alone. Which is as much of the plot as can be shared in Iain Reid’s unnerving new novel, Foe.
Foe is a novel of questions. Junior and Henrietta have some, but not as many as you might think. Even if they’re not happy about it, they accept that Junior has been chosen from data collected from their individual screens—devices that sound much like tablets/iPads. Their lives are simple and quiet and Junior, in particular, is not a man that questions.
I’m not an observant person. I see what I see, and the rest doesn’t matter. What’s the point? Why bother taking notice of everything going on around you, filling up your mind with irrelevant details and excess information? What’s going to happen will happen regardless.
But while Henrietta doesn’t question, she does seem off to Junior. Rather than move closer in the time they have left she becomes distant. When Terrance reappears in their lives for Junior’s final preparations before leaving, things become even more strained.
Foe is a small book—under 300 pages, but I read it in one sitting. Reid’s sentences are short, clean, and neat and Foe’s chapters brief and to the point. All things that should evoke a sense of calm and certainty. But from the novel’s opening sentences there is nothing but a growing sense of unease. Even if the words being spoken and the actions taken seem innocuous on the surface, they feel freighted with meaning underneath. Reid fosters this feeling of something-not-right by seasoning Foe with terminology that is immediately recognizable to readers as current hot topic subjects: data collection, virtual reality, 3-D printing, algorithms, industrial farming, and the need to find another place for humans to live.
The large scale uncomfortable feeling is readily apparent in Foe, with things like a corporation that can conscript people to work in outer space and monitor private conversations. But it’s Reid going smaller that makes Foe an onion novel, with each layer revealing more of the truth while still hiding another layer. One layer is straightforward science fiction, but another is a disquieting look at marriage and how well we can ever know another person. A simple monologue from Henrietta to Junior
“There are so many instances when I’ve expected you to understand how I’m feeling, and it just doesn’t happen. It’s so discouraging, draining…Honestly, I rarely feel happy. And I don’t want to have to tell you everything. I shouldn’t have to. Not if you’re paying attention, even just a bit, considering me in a way that’s not just superficial.”
feels almost as unsettling as Junior’s sessions with Terrance in preparation for his departure.
A quick read that will engender a lot of conversation, I’d strongly recommend Foe for anyone in a book club. Understated in setting, characters, and plot, the novel expands exponentially with suspense. Reid manages to keep the reader off-balance from beginning to end, subtly creating tension in a way that is chilling. No matter how you slice Foe it is a gem of a novel.
As an adorer of I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS, I have been highly anticipating this one. Although I have no idea when I might get to it, I’m so happy to hear it may provide a similar level of enjoyment.
How fabulous- we’ve each provided the other with an unqualified recommendation! I love when that happens. I have I’m Thinking of Ending Things sitting right here on a shelf but haven’t read it. I’m pushing it to the top of my November TBR (provided the fall releases don’t kill me).
Here’s how long my week has been: I was going to reply “Unqualified?!?! We are the f’ing MOST qualified!” Then the lightbulb went on. Ha. I hope you enjoy ITOET as much as I did, it was a super eerie creepfest that burned my brain in the best way.
We are indeed. If only from the sheer number of words we’ve processed through our brains since starting our blogs. I’m sure by November I’ll be ready for full on creep mode, although I’m getting f’ing creep overload from this SCOTUS nominee. Sigh.
Sarah's Book Shelves says
Well, I think you nailed it. I wrote my draft mini review awhile back, but I don’t really think I need to publish it now – haha!
My very favorite thing about this one was how he delved into the regular issues of marriage in the midst of this kind of sci-fi-lite stuff.
Right?! I think that aspect is what tipped it over the top- from good to great- for me.
Oh I’m so curious. I hate picking new releases for book club because we all try to library but you’re really tempting me.
Susie | Novel Visits says
I JUST finished, Foe and had to come read your review. I agree with Sarah that you nailed it! Though I actually liked I’m Thinking of Ending Things more, I thought Foe was a really interesting/creepy story on so many levels. I was also fascinated with the writing. Did you notice how he switched up the way he was using quotation marks at the very end (at Terrance’s final visit)? It made me think that perhaps the real Hen had been replaced.
You’re the second person to recommend his debut so I’ll make sure to read it when I hit backlist books towards the end of the year!
I definitely think his stylistic choices were clues in the novel. Which made me love it even more when I first noticed it!
Ooooh! This sounds really intriguing- I hadn’t heard about it, thanks for the heads up!
It is such a quick read, you should try it. I love that he went far beyond the creepy sci-fi, dystopic feeling into the very real aspects of marriage.
Renee (Itsbooktalk) says
I wasn’t as interested in the science fiction aspect of this but I like what you said about the marriage angle and the subtle tension. I’ve got this on my library holds list so I’ll be sure to suggest it for my book club
I think you and your book club would like it because, really, the sci-fi is somewhat subtle. It’s about technology that we’re all aware of so doesn’t seem that far out there. And their lives are very basic- he works in a grain mill. The fact that it is all so basic is one of the things that makes it so creepy!
Wow you sold me on this one. I’ll have to check it out. thx for the tip. both his debut and this one are now on my list.