‘They took the evening flight, so the plane was full of people trying to party the six hours over.’
A couple go on a holiday to Bali. It is the first holiday that Tom and Clara have taken for ten years. They are both struggling academics, drifting through life. On the flight, Tom suffers a panic attack, which he keeps hidden (somehow) from Clara. Tom and Clara establish a routine once they arrive at the resort: Tom stays in his head as much as he can while Clara engages more with their surroundings. But when Tom and Clara meet Madeleine, her partner Jeremy and their five-year-old son Ollie, the holiday changes shape. Tom seems to become more engaged, but is he? The holiday drifts, in a vaguely comfortable way towards its end. But then a routine event changes everything.
‘The first thing he knew about it was the sound.’
The fogging is a routine spraying of insecticide around the resort. Clara and Madeleine are caught in the grounds: they had not been alerted to the spraying and neither is happy. This event propels Clara into action. Tom is surprised, but should he be?
What an intriguing story. Tom is almost exclusively focussed on his actions and reactions, and we only have his point of view. It seems clear that Tom does not pick up on some of the signals Clara is sending. Tom seems stuck between a past he cannot change and a future he cannot envisage. And Clara? The fogging gives her an impetus for change that I doubt Tom will ever understand.
I felt sorry for Tom: crippled by anxiety and living within its confines. I wondered what Clara would do next, and how either of them would remember this holiday. The location, beautiful as it may be, hardly features in Tom’s perception. He could have been anywhere: anxious and trying to tightly structure his interactions.
This is Mr Horton’s debut novel, and it is impressive. Highly recommended.