Kate – a divorced forty-something with a teenage son, Matt. She has become very depressed since the enforced lockdown, and wonders how she will endure many more days of isolation. She was a ‘close contact’ of someone with Covid, so has fourteen days to isolate. Kate is a social person. Before the pandemic she worked as a waitress in a busy cafe. In the evenings, she sang in pubs. Feeling the financial stress of being out of work, and the extreme emotional toll of being indoors, she makes a disastrous decision…
Matt – is coping fairly well under the circumstances. Like all teenage boys he is a ravenous eater, and he plays online games to distract himself.
Alice – a widowed grandmother who lives alone. In her isolation she laments to herself how she cannot remember what it feels like to be kissed, hugged, or even touched. She bakes and eats the product of her baking by herself. She cannot deliver her cookies to her grandchildren. Because of her ‘extreme vulnerability’ (she is a cancer patient), she is not advised to leave her home for risk of infection. Then one day as she gazes longingly out the window she sees her neighbour Kate go out!
Kate, desperate to escape the confines of the house, and contrary to the rules of the land, goes out for a walk on the fell. She doesn’t think she’ll encounter anyone, and she neglects to take her cell phone. She only plans to be out for an hour or so… And then, she falls…
Rob is a volunteer with the Peak District National Park search and rescue. It is his weekend to have custody of his teenage daughter and they had planned to spend some quality time together. But then… he gets a call out. A woman is missing…The anxiety, the isolation, the self-doubt and depression brought about by the government’s enforced lockdown during the Covid pandemic was eloquently and empathetically captured here. The emotional toll of enforced isolation was perfectly described. So perfectly described that the thoughts of the characters mirrored my own thoughts at times, making the narrative eerily accurate.
The ‘stream of consciousness‘ writing style might not be to everyone’s taste, but it works well in this case. You get inside the various character’s minds, not observing, but seeing their ‘secret thoughts’ – making the events authentic and chillingly personal.
I was of two minds as to whether I wanted to read a ‘pandemic novel’ because I lived through it, hence why make myself re-experience the trauma. My mind was made up when I re-read my review of this author’s “Summerwater” and I remembered just how much I enjoyed her writing.
The ending was rather too abrupt for my taste. I wish there had been a chapter of ‘follow-up’ as I wanted to know what happened to the characters next. Alice, Kate, and Matt were so real to me that not knowing what comes after is difficult.
Sarah Moss has granted us a glimpse into the lives and thoughts of people as they experience the recent ‘lockdown’. The loneliness, fear, and boredom are all very genuinely and uncompromisingly portrayed. Their stories portray the author’s keen understanding of human nature. A short novel that is rather dark and very serious in tone might not be to everyone’s taste. However, in my humble opinion, literary fiction that engenders empathy in the reader is to be recommended. Well done!
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Farrar, Straus and Giroux via NetGalley.
Sarah Moss is the author of seven novels and a memoir of her year living in Iceland, Names for the Sea, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her novels are Cold Earth, Night Waking, Bodies of Light (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), Signs for Lost Children (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), The Tidal Zone (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and Ghost Wall, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2019.
Sarah was born in Glasgow and grew up in the north of England. After moving between Oxford, Canterbury, Reykjavik and West Cornwall, she now lives in the Midlands and is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick.