At dusk on a November evening in 2020 a woman slips out of her garden gate and turns up the hill. Kate is in the middle of a two-week quarantine period, but she just can’t take it any more – the closeness of the air in her small house, the confinement. And anyway, the moor will be deserted at this time. Nobody need ever know.
Sarah Moss is the author of seven novels and a memoir of her year living in Iceland, Names for the Sea, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her novels are Cold Earth, Night Waking (Fiction Uncovered Award), Bodies of Light (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), Signs for Lost Children (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize), The Tidal Zone (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and Ghost Wall (long listed for the Women’s Prize, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize), Summerwater, and The Fell.
This is a short book but so much of life is between the covers. Sarah Moss has an unusual and unique way of writing. It’s a stream of consciousness from the point of view of each character, delving deep into their psyche, their inner feelings, and hitting on everybody’s feelings about the difficulties of lockdown, albeit in varying degrees. She hits the nail on the head, from Kate’s struggles to Alice’s loneliness. I must admit that I didn’t always find the writing style easy; I think it needs a lot more concentration because you can’t easily pick out dialogue, for instance.
My review today is of The Fell by Sarah Moss which was published yesterday by Picador. My thanks to Camilla Elworthy for sending me a proof copy of the book for review purposes.
But Kate’s neighbour Alice sees her leaving and Matt, Kate’s son, soon realizes she’s missing. And Kate, who planned only a quick solitary walk – a breath of open air – falls and badly injures herself. What began as a furtive walk has turned into a mountain rescue operation . . .
Moss writes searing and perceptive narratives which get to the heart of the situation she is writing about. As Kate is stuck on the fell in the dark, injured, mountain rescue are sent to look for her and we follow their rescue operation along with Kate’s increasingly scrambled and pain-induced thoughts, Matt’s worry about his mum’s whereabouts, and Alice’s sheltered life on the other side of the wall.
The other main character is Alice, Kate and Matt’s next door neighbour, and in Matt’s hour of need she is there for him, despite her own status as vulnerable and shielding from the virus at home. I felt the different statuses of the characters portrayed so well those months of staying at home, never knowing when or if freedom would come.
The Fell is the story of the Covid lockdown and its far-reaching effects on three people. Kate and her teenage son, Matt, are in quarantine, confined to the house after contact with somebody with the virus. Feeling well during this time only heightens Kate’s feelings of being a prisoner in her own home, unable to get out onto the hills near her home. Unable to cope with the oppression any longer, she makes a decision: she will go out anyway. It’s quiet out there, nobody will see her. She needs this for her sanity.
Sarah was born in Glasgow and grew up in the north of England. After moving between Oxford, Canterbury, Reykjavik, West Cornwall and the English Midlands, she now lives by the sea near Dublin.
What I enjoy most of all about Moss’s writing are her descriptions of the minutiae of life, the everyday details. She does it incredibly well. The Fell focuses on just a few hours on a November evening, and is an intense and thoughtful read.