In the Acknowledgements section at the back of Fog, author Rana Bose has this to say about Fog, his third novel:
“There is no moment of doubt. There is a continuum of internal conflicts. What we say we are and what we do not feel comfortable bringing up. What is easily said and done and what is difficult to live by. We are caught in a web—our public stands and our private angst. About not letting the world know, our deepest fears. About hiding behind a smokescreen, a pall of non-descript inanities, a fog cover—behind which we make ourselves acceptable to the public. We play safe. We live between two aspirations. One that we really wish we could live by and what we actually live. This novel is about that conflict. About crossing over to the other side. It is not easy.”
It is also not easy to summarize Fog. It is suspenseful, conflicting, mysterious and hard to put down. A literate novel about actions and reactions, crime, family history and comfortable old neighbourhoods, Fog is one of the best books I have read in the 2018/2019 reading year.
It begins dramatically with the near-to-death beating of Chuck Bhattacharya (or Bhatt for short, who is our narrator) and about whom we know very little initially. During his recovery, he tells us:
“I had lots of time to think, although it may not have always been coherent. I wondered why Corinthe had put together a hit team to take me out only a few months after I had joined the company. Why was she panicking?”
Of course, at this point in chapter one, we don’t know who Corinthe is, what company he is talking about, or what Chuck knows. This heightens (and frustratingly so, I might add!) the mystery aspect of the novel and introduces the main story: exposing Corinthe and the company she works for and her role in the explosion of a small plane bound for Trois-Pistoles in 1998, killing all on board, including a famous Quebec artist. Chuck soon discovers he was unwittingly involved in the plane’s demise. The case was quickly closed by investigators, and no one was implicated; the crash is attributed to engine failure or wind, or both. The evidence, however, points to an explosion, not a crash.
The resolution of the cold case takes time to investigate and along the way, Chuck is supported by friends and family on Saint Laurent Boulevard (AKA ‘the Main’) such as Mrs. Meeropol and her son Nat (Chuck’s best friend), Myra, a quirky but amiable love interest who has a personality disorder, Chuck’s wise grandfather RK and Myra’s father Gerry Banks. Mrs. Meeropol is one of the most enigmatic and at the same time the most engaging character in the book and acts as a combination oracle, Elder and Gatekeeper of The Main. Chuck aspires to be a writer and is the chronicler of the neighbourhood, so he often goes to Mrs. Meeropol for tidbits of history, especially as to what the neighbourhood was like and how it has turned into what it is today. Specifically, he wants to know about the fog.
She told me stories about the Main I can’t forget. The spirits gathered as the fog hung low. I listened to her with absolute adoration. “Tell me more about the fog. I don’t see the fog here anymore.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know. It was more like a dome than a pall.” She stopped and looked out through the back window, distracted. Then she began again, more concentrated this time. “You know, I guess the streets weren’t as warm as they are now.” […] “The lights didn’t give out as much heat either and they were lower. So, there was a fog hanging low around each lamp; a nice diffused glow like in a Van Gogh—you know? […] The fog was like a cover; a warm blanket through which you could see the stars if you wanted. There was not so much parody on the streets, no relentless mockery. There were large writings and advertisements on the brick walls, awnings freshly painted to match the shops next door. There was, how do you say, conviviality? There was art, too; paintings in the shops, always. Beautiful paintings everywhere. Even if it was a sausage seller! And in the night, the lamps glowed within the fog hanging low over everyone. People looked out of their second-floor windows and called out gently to their neighbours. The fog wasn’t a fog. It was a feeling.” She laughed out loud, startled by her own words.
It’s no wonder Chuck sat and listened with absolute adoration! The words that Mr. Bose skilfully pens make the character of Mrs. Meeropol and the Main come alive within the reader’s imagination. We are cleverly drawn into Chuck’s world of the Main.
I’ve quoted a lot from the novel, and I haven’t even touched on the solving of the Trois-Pistoles Cold Case, Chuck and Myra’s relationship, her personality disorder and Nat’s “crossing over,” by leaving the Main to take a security job in Afghanistan. Chuck’s trip to Calcutta to spread his Grandfather’s ashes in the River Hooghly was especially poignant.
There was so much I loved about this book: it’s pacing, the characters, the life lessons learned and the importance of communities and neighbourhoods in big cities like Montreal. I gave Fog 5 stars at Goodreads where I summed up the book, saying:
“I’ve read many good books this year and Fog is certainly near the top. A literate mystery/thriller set in Montreal (on “the Main”) with side trips to Calcutta and Kandahar, this is a superbly written book about a neighbourhood, friendships, justice and belonging. Highly recommended.”
I’m adding it to the 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.
Fog by Rana Bose
This review of Fog was based on an Advance Reading Copy supplied by Baraka Books in exchange for a fair review. Fog will be released on May 31st, 2019. You can pre-order it from Amazon.ca using the link below. Please note if you choose to purchase this book through Amazon using the link I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. If you cannot see the Amazon ad below (if you are using an ad blocker, for instance) here is the link: https://amzn.to/2T9SGBx Thanks!