Summerwater, by Sarah Moss, takes place in the Scottish Trossachs. The events of the book take place over the span of a day of relentless rain. It is Sarah Moss’s seventh novel. It has something sinister at play in the shadows, like a shadowy figure moving across the murky water of a loch. The author already has a record that speaks much in her favor. Here is a review on Summerwater that backs it up even more. Have a look.
There is a cluster of small wooden vacation cottages along the loch’s edge, and its occupants are trapped in the rain that has been falling relentlessly for days and is beginning to seem unusually persistent – even if you were to speak about Scotland. The novel begins in the morning and finishes in the evening, from the very first lines you would know that something awful is about to happen, though what you might not know is whose neck would the blade fall on. A youngster with some serious heart issue; an elderly who rides their “shiny boomer-mobile” super-fast on slick roads; a mysterious figure hides inside the woods; a little child takes his kayak too far into the chilly sea. No cellular network is available and help is yet to reach.
Everyone has a secret and is ethically conflicted, starting from the old husband and wide whose goodwill hides profound anger on both sides to the youngster who taunts the Glaswegian girl with a name that has a foreign touch in it.
The narrative shifts from person to person starting from a young boy who is in the phase where he is into exploring his sexuality and sexual behaviors, a mother who has a surprising amount of free time and spends it all trying to decide on something to do with it, and a husband and wife who steal from their personal time in what the book describes as “the opposite of dancing, a daily game of hide-and-seek in which the unspeakable objective is to avoid the beloved.”
All of these Families are engrossed by the Eastern European household which hosts wild parties (therefore, of course, loud ones too) at the resort. The fathers always seem on the brink of heading across to the Romanians’ house to protest about the sound, even as it becomes apparent that they would love to be included in the noisy parties as well.
However, to categorize the book’s topics as either interpersonal or domestic would mean overlooking what causes Moss’s writing to be so unique: the exquisite countermelodies of soil, sky, and animals that surround dramas of mankind.
Moss’s skill to evoke the ephemeral and agonizing sweetness of domestic life is unsurpassed, and in this novel especially she draws so delicately all the tensions and limitations that can render cohabitation a delight and as well a living hell are particularly remarkable. A guy in whose “head the masculinity police are watching even in the middle of the night”; a mom who cannot think of anything better to do with her free time than clean the sink; and a feminist who is preoccupied with her thoughts of a bacon bap that keep her detached from her boyfriend’s relentless pursuit of a joint orgasm as well as her own slightly abnormal sexual desires.
Moss’s specialty is seeing how people quietly edit themselves and each other, the limitations this places on them, and also the strengths this produces.
Summerwater has the feel of a pandemic book despite its completion months prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. The novel starts as Justine realizes that there won’t be an aircraft this summer or the next.
A novelist’s expertise depends on their capacity to empathize with individuals who are very different from themselves. She accomplishes it so effortlessly and completely that her plain, mellifluous prose and precisely chosen spontaneous indirect speech sometimes read like documentary or reality – her language is so good that her artistry is hidden. Moss’s politics are absolutely transparent in Summerwater, but she has much to say concerning the tangled complexities and frailties that we all harbor.
Numerous half-rhymes exist in Summerwater: how the steam of the coffee moves like a “mist between the trees,” or how rain falls on puddles like water simmering on the stove. This relationship is most obvious in the skittering, sensuous way she speaks about water. It is as if something inside us as well as outside of us, running through us, building us up, a reminder that we are not as distinct from Nature as we often assume.
The hue of clouds has been compared as bruises, while the color of the sky has been likened to dead flesh. Moss’ work serves as a constant reminder that we are corporeal, mortal, and hence vulnerable. Moss weaves violence throughout the story, but whether it’s human or nature — or a combination of the two — is left up to the reader’s imagination. Inevitably, everyone has frailty or weakness. This is true whether you’re an athlete with a weak heart, an old driver who speeds around curves, or a kid who puts his kayak out on the loch in poor weather.
Summerwater is a place where the dead are never far away. Throughout the narrative, Moss uses elliptical, building suspense to get us ready for the end-of-the-world disaster. The way she flies and zooms across space and time, Moss also encourages us to question, as she expresses it in an interlude, how important is it for us to recall the groaning desert, or the thudding glacier, or the species that walked the soil before us and those which will come after us?
With its wit and energy and beautifully organized structure, the book puts most current writing to shame. The book is incisive, probing, deeply conceived, and entirely of the time, putting its nervous human dots against a huge uncaring landscape.
Her superb touch and subtle humor are impenetrable to everything. Summerwater is a tale of boundless depth, deft and full of life. A true work of art.