Like Elanor Dymott’s recent Slack-Tide, Adam Foulds’ latest centres on a relationship of sorts between two people: Henry, an English actor, and Kristin, one of his American fans. Kristin worships Henry from afar. She watches him in The Grange, the Downton Abbey-like show that made him famous, and she obsesses, she recognises, but within what are to her reasonable limits (her mum and her friends worry about it but she feels she has it all under control). Henry meanwhile is auditioning for a part in a film that may make him famous, that may take him from an actor in a TV show to an actor on the world stage, a force to be reckoned with:
“The thing with cinema that made it different from theatre and TV and made him want it so much was that film was the world. It merged with the world. It was about real light and places, space and atmospheres, and about being a person not acting them.”
We spend a lot of time with Henry, during “repetitive days, simple and austere and so bare of incident that they seemed structureless, the hours gaseous and expanding”, and we see him, as a creature of impulse, a person in a mode, examining himself and others in a similar orbit (Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston) existing in a world seemingly at one remove from everyone else, high above Docklands:
“Standing on his balcony, he could relax into primitive animal alertness, feeling the changing power of the wind, scanning the eastward distances. The place was lavish with light, flashing off the water and glass and metal. Evenings were colourful, buildings fading to sombre bronze then turning inside out when their lit interiors shone clear through the darkness.”
What is Henry but a lit interior shining clear to be viewed through darkness? Later, he is taken as part of an entourage to Dubai where he and his fellow actors are called upon to be chauffeured from one luxurious vista to another, their lives temporarily refracted through an insane degree of worship and adulation (and the novel leans in a similar direction to James Lasdun’s recent The Fall Guy, vividly fashioning a debased world of plenty, in which beautiful and casual young women give themselves up, butter to a hot knife, “Every point of contact with the world was soft and expensive, designed for enjoyment”). Henry knows it isn’t ‘real’ and yet:
“everybody was mad… in the dark privacy of their thoughts. Fame pulled it out of them like magnets, the weird personal connections, the destinies, the universe wanting things for them, or needing them to go through things first, to help them learn.”
As you’d expect, Kristen, who first sees Henry in an airport, tires of writing letters and boards a plane for London, her plan to see him as Hamlet and engineer a meeting. And, of course, there is a meeting, there are meetings in truth, a small drama unfolds and plays out. There is a tension at work here, between the author and the reader, a tension you sense the author is having fun extending, a tension the reader experiences both as anxiety and exhilaration. All told, it makes for a great read and the kind of book you may be inclined to read over the instant you get to the end.
Any Cop?: This was a book we started reading with high hopes and our hopes were exceeded. If you’re a fan of Foulds, kick down doors to get to this. If you’ve yet to dabble with Foulds, know that he’s staked an early claim on one of the standout novels of 2019.