As 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