From the author of Ghost Wall, a series of vignettes offer the idle thoughts of a group of strangers vacationing in a Scottish holiday park during a very rainy day, lost in their own little worlds, until a shocking event unites them.
As titles go, it’s mildly pretentious...Yet Moss, except in flashes, is anything but a pretentious writer. She writes beautifully about English middle-class life, about souls in tumult, about people whose lives have not turned out the way they’d hoped ... She catches the details of ordinary existence in a manner that’s reminiscent of the director Mike Leigh: the peeling roof tiles, the cheap plastic teakettles, the beans on toast. She never condescends, and her fluid prose is suggestive of larger and darker human themes ... Reading her, one recalls John Barth’s comment that the best literature is 'both of stunning literary quality and democratic of access' ... a bit less tightly wound than Ghost Wall, and it has an expedient ending. But there’s little doubt, reading Moss, that you’re in the hands of a sophisticated and gifted writer ... As always in Moss’s work, there is a strong sense of the natural world. There are riddles of existence she’s shaking down. As a character puts it in Ghost Wall, 'ancient knowledge runs somehow in our blood' ... As always in Moss’s work, too, there is an ominous quality, slow uncanny beats from an extra subwoofer or two, mighty but muffled ... One senses Moss stumbling toward an ending rather than running confidently downhill toward one. This is comment more than complaint. Endings don’t matter to me quite as much as they do to many ... Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head is a great fog novel. Summerwater is pretty close to a great rain novel.
The novel begins at dawn and ends in the dark, and from the first page you know something terrible is going to happen, but you don’t know on whose neck the axe will fall ... Moss’s ability to conjure up the fleeting and sometimes agonised tenderness of family life is unmatched, and here, as in The Tidal Zone in particular, she sketches so lightly the all-but-invisible conflicts and compromises that can make cohabitation both a joy and a living hell ... Summerwater feels very much like a pandemic novel, despite the fact that it must have been completed months before Covid-19 ... A great part of a novelist’s skill lies in the breadth of their sympathies and their ability to enter into the lives of people unlike themselves. Moss does this so naturally and comprehensively that at times her simple, pellucid prose and perfectly judged free indirect speech feel almost like documentary or nonfiction – there is an artfulness to her writing so accomplished as to conceal itself.
Sarah Moss has an uncanny ability to prickle the reader’s skin ... The book’s action takes place over the course of a rainy weekend, and Moss introduces us to a variety of characters, who, through internal monologues and their interactions with the other holiday-makers, take turns driving the action ... Moss intersperses chapters detailing her characters’ lives with others in which the land — its geology and other features — speaks to the nature of deep time, the way in which human habitation is a blip on a timeline that stretches back billions of years. But as the day’s events progress, nature takes on human characteristics: 'The sky had turned a yellowish shade of grey, the colour of bandages, or thickened skin on old white feet.' The novel’s explosive conclusion feels like witnessing swamp gas bubbling to the surface and catching fire.