by Peter Jinks
Reading history and reviews
Finished in 2008I picked this book up at Borders just before my most recent trip to New Jersey. I didn't really need another book but I liked the yellow cover and the fact that it was relatively thin. I knew that there was a film of "Hallam Foe" but I hadn't seen it and I was intrigued by the title, which sounded dark and mysterious. However, it turns out that in the tradition of books like Alan Warner's Morven Callar, the title is actually the name of the principle character.
Hallam Foe is a young man with a penchant for surreptiously observing his family and neighbours, meticulously logging their comings and goings. Still trying to make sense of his mother's suicide, he sees himself as apart from the world that he watches, and feels somehow superior to other people as he believes he has special insight into their lives. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to help him understand his uncommunicative father or his manipulative stepmother any better, and when he continues his voyeurism after being "banished" to Edinburgh it doesn't help him understand the new people that he becomes involved with either. Ultimately Hallam ends up engaging with the world in a messy way that for a while like it's going to end in tragedy but ultimately (and almost comically) seems to work out sort of okay.
I'm still not sure what "Hallam Foe" is really about. There are various plot strands through which Hallam seems to pass without any particular resolution. Maybe that's the point - Hallam seems unwilling to participate in real lives because they are messy, don't always follow a clean narrative arc, and you can't know all the facts. The book's ending also seems to avoid closure, as if the idea is that in the end "life just goes on".
It's certainly an engaging read, and over the course of a week in Hawaii I found myself making more and more time to pick it up. I finished it late one night in Maui when I should have been catching up with my sleep before an early start the next day. The place that we were staying had a communal book collection so I left it there - maybe someone there now is already enjoying "Hallam Foe".