Friday 22 November 2019

Masterful, sinister sci-fi chiller that drips with creeping feeling of weirdness

Thriller

Foe

by Iain Reid

Scribner, €13.99

Foe by Iain Reid
Foe by Iain Reid

Hilary A White

In a remote farm out in the middle of rural North American nowhere, a young couple live in unremarkable isolation. One night, they see green headlights coming up their driveway. Junior and Henrietta open the door to Terrence, a smiling representative of OuterMore, the government body that is involved in a space colony programme known only as the Installation.

Terrence has some incredible news that will change things forever for the two. Junior has been longlisted, seemingly at random they are told, for a possible placement as part of the programme. If he is selected, he will be vetted and put through training to equip him for this golden opportunity in the stars.

The stranger returns some time later to confirm that Junior has indeed been picked. Suitcase in tow, Terrence insists that preparations must now begin in earnest to get Junior ready for his sabbatical in space away from his beloved Henrietta and the quiet life that he cherishes.

Terrence continues to smile away, but for some reason Henrietta has been acting very strangely since that first night of his arrival. It could be that she is just having one of her moods. On the other hand, it could be that OuterMore is not telling Junior the full story about what exactly it means when it says she will be "looked after" in his absence. Maybe he is imagining everything. It's big news to receive, after all.

There won't be another word uttered about the plot of this deliciously sinister blend of Harold Pinter, Philip K Dick and Black Mirror. With ratcheting tension and an excruciating dread dripping off the tail of each trim chapter, Iain Reid's seismic sci-fi chiller leads us up an eerie garden path and rings all manner of bells about how well we know those closest to us, and indeed, ourselves. Bells ring about other things - yes they do, but you needn't concern yourself with that right now.

The Canadian author enhances the effect with language and pace that is cool, controlled and unadorned, all narrated in the first person by Junior's internal monologue as he tries to make sense of what is taking place under his roof. Reid smuggles gossamer traces of naivety into Junior's voice, or so you come to feel.

The ground beneath the character's feet starts to feel less sure and an unbearable creeping feeling of weirdness, of things just not sitting quite right, takes hold. Attention is diverted away at certain moments and questions are not really answered.

Reid, who has already sold the film rights to this, delicately places scents to tease and torment, using a less-is-more policy for maximum torture. Not a step is misplaced over the course of a three-act structure that sustains this shrill note of unease all the way through to its jarring reveal.

We've already said too much. Grab a copy. Trust us.

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