On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.
A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.
My thanks to the publishers for my digital copy of this book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.
I spent many of my childhood holidays in the damp environs of the Scottish Borders, including in a log cabin, so the premise of Sarah Moss’s latest book immediately appealed to my nostalgic sensibilities. I had no idea what a rich, densely-packed, insightful read it was going to be in so many other ways.
The story, such as it is, follows twelve people relaxing in a Scottish holiday park, where the main, visible feature is the endlessly falling rain. There is no real meaty plot to form the book, instead we are given a series of internal monologues by different residents of the park, who range in age from children to retirees. The author makes the most remarkable job of giving us the authentic voices of each of the different characters which, although they are doing anything particularly memorable, bring the people vividly to life.
It may sound like not much occurs in the story, and this is a valid observation, but it matters not one jot to the appeal and rewards of the book. The internal observations we gain from the different narrators in their stream-of-consciousness internal pronouncements are more than enough to intrigue, engross and entertain. Moss has captured each of the characters perfectly, their thoughts so searing and authentic that you will find yourself laughing, crying, cringeing, grimacing and nodding along with them as you recognise the reflections and concerns that flit ethereal through their minds, and the way their thoughts skip and jump, making connections that make no sense and perfect sense at the same time. The writing is captivating and I could not get enough of it.
The thread tying all of the strands together is the reaction of the park residents to the inconsiderate behaviour of the occupants of one of the cabins, and the way this eventually played out left me shaken, disturbed and moved all at the same time. It was a shocking and perfect ending to the story, and captured and not-quite-tied up the mood of the novel in a lingering, melancholy and thought-provoking bow. This is a book that hangs around in your subconscious long after you’ve finished it, like a dream you haven’t fully deciphered and can’t quite shake.
The chapter featuring the young couple on their first holiday away together, particularly the thoughts running through the girl’s head during an intimate encounter, and the young mother given the blissful hour to herself that she has long been craving were my favourites. The first because it was so humorous and painful to read, the latter because I could relate to it so closely, but the whole book, which is so short it is really a novella, is packed full and dense with marvel and I know I will go back to it again and again to find fresh nuance to enjoy.
This book packs a massive and powerful bang for its size and was joyful to read. When I look back over the 2020’s reading at the end of the year, I know that this is one book I will remember and treasure as one of the stand out novels of the year. Given how unusual this year has been, and how I have lost myself in a larger than average number of great books, this is no mean epithet.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss is out now in all formate and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
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 (Fiction Uncovered Award), 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 (long listed for the Women’s Prize, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize). Her new novel, Summerwater, appears with Picador in August 2020
Sarah was born in Glasgow and grew up in the north of England. After moving between Oxford, Canterbury, Reykjavik, West Cornwall and the English Midlands, she now lives by the sea near Dublin.
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