Today, it’s a review of a very special book and one of my new favourites. It’s Summerwater by Sarah Moss.
I am so excited to talk about this brilliant new book by Sarah Moss and the wonderful Summerwater. I absolutely loved it but first… what is it about? Here is the synopsis:
From the acclaimed author of Ghost Wall, Summerwater is a devastating story told over twenty-four hours in the Scottish highlands, and a searing exploration of our capacity for both kinship and cruelty in these divided times.
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.
I really enjoyed her previous novel Ghost Wall, that was long-listed for the Women’s Prize, and I especially enjoyed it after I read it a second time. It is the perfect small book but big on ideas to read on a rainy Sunday. But for me, Summerwater, is even better. The story is told during the longest day of the summer where twelve people are with their families in a Scottish cabin park and it is raining non-stop and nothing to do but to look out through the rain-covered window to the other residents. Each chapter is told by a different character and we get an insight of how they are feeling being cooped up not with the rain but with their families. Some chapters are told from other perspectives of the other family members and it’s just a gorgeous read. A bit like Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge books – chapters are from different perspectives but all held together by one thread.
Sarah Moss is a wonderful writer and this is throughout the novel. I just love everything about it. From the way she uses nature and the landscape, almost a character of its own, her observations of different dynamics between families and relationships, the way she explores hard themes but gives them a light touch. I think it is remarkable how she uses a very short chapter and her characters are crystal clear and you feel like you are them, that you are with them, on their shoulder, in the cabin, listening to the sound of the rain from outside, or on the kayak on the harsh waters. It’s absorbing, atmospheric and of course, isolated.
There are so many themes being explored in the novel. From nature, wildlife, climate change, family, relationships, sex, body image, growing up, growing older, isolation, but also community and division and I think this is very cleverly done. It isn’t as explicit as Ghost Wall but there are political and social undertones under the surface of the novel of community and division as one particular family starts to draw the attention of the other residents and Moss asks: can you put your division aside and come together as a community when tragedy strikes?
“The woods expand, settle down for the night, offer a little more shelter to those that need it. Trees sleep, more or less. Maybe some nights they dream and wake, check the darkness, sleep again till dawn.”
Something that I completely loved about this book was how funny it was. I couldn’t stop laughing at some parts when reading it. From a sex scene, to the little observations between a man and his wife, a mother and her child, a brother and his sister, etc. I loved how she used comedy as for me, it was just the typical British humour, no matter what the situation. Because laughter is there, even in the darkest of times, it is how we cope, how we navigate through life. But Sarah Moss is a brilliant writer in comedy where it doesn’t make you cringe but just part of human life and how we interact with others.
Overall, this is a beautiful blur of a book with prose that is observational, with layers upon layers, and how when we are isolated, we look not only at others differently, but ourselves. It is funny, heartfelt, emotional, but full of hope, too. It is the perfect read for a rainy summer/weekend. I couldn’t bare to put it down and I just know that it is a book that I will turn to again and again for years to come. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she has in store next.
A very special book and I think I need to read more of her previous books. Have you read Summerwater yet? What did you think? Are you a fan of Sarah Moss? Let me know in the comments!