I’m going with Fiona Mozley on this: Sarah Moss is definitely one of the best writers in Britain today. I loved her historical Bodies of Light and Signs for Lost Children, and last year’s Ghost Wall was also excellent. I’d venture, however, that Summerwater tops them all. In this, her latest, she spears the frets and niggles of modern life so neatly that it can make you wince.
Whilst Summerwater is, as the title suggests, set at the height of the lightest season, the rain which refuses to cease keeps all Moss’ characters stuck in their Scottish chalets, forlornly wondering what to do with their day. The claustrophobia is key to the tension in this short novel, and that now all-too familiar feeling of being ‘locked-down’ is compounded by the fact that most of the families are renting their holiday accommodation, adrift from their own home comforts and wifi connections. The cupboards may or may not contain that staple ingredient needed for a pasta ‘surprise’ to work; the soap and the sheets smell different.
We meet in turn the key characters, hearing their thoughts as they get through the day. Moss moves from the slow domestic tragedy of dementia to the warm exhaustion of looking after young children. There’s also room for the comic – there’s a very amusing internal monologue of a young woman trying to achieve a simultaneous orgasm with her over-diligent partner whilst failing to bat away all the other thoughts in her head. Seeing the same characters from others’ perspectives reminds us how little we can ever really know those around us, even if we are shuttered up in close proximity.
The rain has posed a threat to the holiday atmosphere, building tensions and giving each family time to observe and speculate about their temporary neighbours. When the horror comes – and Moss is so good at the slow build to the moment of clarifying fear – you’re left jarred, forced to look back on the day with a different eye. I read this in one sitting, caught up in Moss’ tight prose, and it’s now the final addition to my top ten list this year. Utterly brilliant.