Summerwater by Sarah Moss: The longest day

Cover image for Summerwater by Sarah MossAs regular readers may know, I’ve been a Sarah Moss fan for quite some time. I was delighted when Ghost Wall made a splash not so long ago, thoroughly deserving of all the praise heaped upon it, and Summerwater looks set to do the same. Set over a single drenching day, Moss’ new novella takes us into a set of chalets in a remote Scottish park where the hoped-for peace and quiet is shattered by the partying of one renegade family.

Each of the wooden lochside lodges is occupied with holidaymakers contemplating what to do faced with the deluge outside. Justine’s not going to let it deter her from her daily run, leaving her husband and two sons in bed, determined to keep her fortysomething body in shape even if Steve has given up that battle. David knows he and Mary will take their customary ferry trip from the cabin they’ve owned for thirty years, their activities curtailed by Mary’s failing health. Alex ventures out in his kayak speculating about the chances of an underage drink in the pub leaving his sister Becky to the chores and her adolescent contempt for their parents. Meanwhile, Milly’s mind wanders as Josh pursues his goal of their simultaneous orgasms, somewhat ineptly. As the day wears on, the holidaymakers find ways to entertain themselves on this dismal summer’s day, some of them increasingly irritated by the loud music emanating from one of the chalets and wondering what to do about it.

A wind strokes the hillside, disturbs the trees, lifts the rain sideways into her face 

Moss structures her elegantly slim novella almost like a set of tightly linked short stories, dipping in and out of the chalet occupants’ long wet day, exploring their preoccupations through the thoughts running through their heads. Each chapter smoothly shifts perspective, lent its own distinctive tone by its character’s inner voice, from Milly’s smartly funny musings, hoping that her carefully policed fantasies will speed up Josh’s progress so that she can have breakfast to Mary’s poignant awareness that her memory is slipping away. Beneath it all is the low hum of xenophobia, each of the holidaymakers giving the nosy chalet’s inhabitants a different eastern European nationality having not bothered to find out for themselves. The sense of menace which characterised Ghost Wall is less strong, but there’s a quietly insistent understanding that things are unlikely to end well. Another superb slice of fiction from Moss, sharply observed and delivered with characteristic insight. Although I very much enjoyed her earlier historical novels, I think her contemporary work is even better. Already looking forward to the next one.

Picador: London 9781529035438 208 pages Hardback

22 thoughts on “Summerwater by Sarah Moss: The longest day”

  1. You already know how much I enjoyed this. What struck me most about the book was the way in which people’s habits have become so ingrained that they behave in ways that they really no longer question as to their appropriateness. Some of these have almost become genetic memories, passed from generation to generation. I think she shows this most strongly in the shorter passages centred around the natural life of the area, but it would also account for what happens at the end.

  2. This does sound lovely, the setting especially appeals to me. I have read three of Sarah Moss’s earlier novels.

  3. I’m excited for this one even though I haven’t read Ghost Wall yet. I have it out from the library again, though – let’s hope I get to it this time!

  4. I held off reading your review until I was able to publish mine – it comes as no surprise that we both enjoyed this. What an absolutely brilliant read.

  5. Over the past week, I’ve been catching up with August’s posts, and so just the other day I read BookishBeck’s not-so-thrilled response to this one and now have yours to compare to it; I think this will be to my taste, the spare and specific and deliberate structure, carefully honed, that can so easily so awry but in the hands of a master storyteller can be so eminently satisfying. (I’ve only read one by Moss but I thought it was delightfully layered and deceptively complex.)

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