As I write, we’re currently waiting to see if there will be new restrictions brought in over the next few days. But even if that is the case, we’re not in the same unknowing state that we experienced back in 2020. In The Fell, a crisp and highly charged novel, Moss has now tackled the fears and frustrations of the lock down in 2020, focusing on two households dealing with their loss of freedom and their fears for the future. Three of the four main voices in the novel have been told to stay indoors, and it’s a reminder of a strange period that did weird things to our notion of time and place:
‘Alice is having dinner with Susie and John. She keeps a pile of cookbooks on the kitchen table now , so she can angle the ipad at an angle that means her double chin doesn’t put her off her food, and a bedside lamp with a warm-toned bulb so she doesn’t look dead. They’ll get a shock if they ever see her for real again.’
Next door, Kate, along with her teenage son Matt, is self-isolating after testing positive. Neither feel ill but the enforced restriction is taking its toll on Kate. She takes a calculated risk, and goes for a walk, reasoning that she is more unlikely to meet anyone up on the hills than she is to pass the virus on to her neighbour if they are in their gardens at the same time. This is at a time when people are encouraged to inform on those spotted breaking self-isolation and Kate, as a single mother earning very little, cannot afford the hefty fine that comes with it. But slipping out of the house at dusk is her bid to remain sane. It is the consequences of this decision, told from the perspective of four characters, that build this taut narrative. There’s no authorial judgement made – each character is brutally honest in their thoughts and in Moss’ hands, this works superbly.
We learn early on that Alice is recovering from cancer and has been shielding since the beginning of the outbreak. She’s financially comfortable, has no immediate need to leave her house with its new fitted kitchen and her electric blanket, and Kate and Matt have been getting her shopping, but she misses the small things, the popping to the shops for expensive cheese, and she misses human contact. One of the things I loved about Summerwater is Moss’s internal monologues for her characters. Here, this works to even greater effect, because it reflects all those conversations we ended up internalising as we stayed inside. Alice’s chapters are a superb example of this, building as they do to a killer of a sentence – something Moss does so well.
In my review of Summerwater, I said that Sarah Moss is one of the best writers in Britain at the moment. I’m now going to amend that to one of the best writers full stop.