“Foe” by Iain Reid

The only word I can think of to describe this novel is “Kafkaesque.” As in, “guy wakes up one morning and he’s been metamorphosed into a giant cockroach.” But in a much more natural, realistic sense.
There’s that same sense of mystery, the same question always in the back of our minds, and in the back of the main character’s mind; “What’s going on?” As the story progresses and the events play out, the character and the reader gradually solve the mystery. But, of course, it’s never the answer any of us were expecting.
The main character is Junior, a simple man with a simple life, mostly lived in the “now.” He dwells very little on the past, has no aspirations for the future, and focuses on his existence and his love for Hen, his wife. Then an enigmatic stranger, Terrance, comes to his farmhouse door one night and tells him that he has been shortlisted for a job on a space station. Just him. Not Hen. Since this will be for several years, the company hiring him will create a robotic replacement to keep Hen company while he is gone.
But Terrance, in the guise of learning about them for the sake of programming the replacement, intrudes more and more into their lives. To the point where Junior begins to suspect, as the reader already knows, that there is Something Else going on.
As we peel back the layers of the onion, the story gets weirder and weirder until the final reveal, which is a surprise, and the denouement, which is also unexpected.
The only problem with the way this plot works out is that, of necessity, there is a certain lack of emotion in the whole novel. Reid uses a writing format that puts us deep into the consciousness of the main character. However, the whole story unfolds with an air of clinical detachment that reduces its emotional impact. At a point about two-thirds of the way through, where in a normal novel the tension would be rising, there is very little build. Also, since most of the story takes place in the mind of a character, there is very little physical action.
Thus the story, while bringing us deeply into the mind of a character, leaves us without a great deal of emotional involvement.
But it is a fascinating mystery, and a beautiful demonstration of a historic style of writing.
Recommended for fans of the Slightly Different.
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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