Book Review – Summerwater by Sarah Moss

books, review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For most of my childhood, my family spent our Summer holidays in Scotland. This means we weren’t exactly expecting sun and beach days. Don’t get me wrong, we did actually have plenty of great days where we could just relax by seas all day. However, we were always sure to pack for rain and wind. So, I have a deep personal connection to the premise of this book. We might not have been in log cabins but rather a static caravan. If anything, I’d say it would probably be colder and has the added benefit of there being absolutely not space. You can imagine just how sick of each other we got after 1/2 weeks. All of this comes together to explain why I was so keen to give this a chance. It also helped that it was a short book with an S title. The perfect thing to read for my August Spell the Month Challenge.

Taking place on the longest day of Summer, Sarah Moss’ novel plays out through the experiences of people staying at a cabin park in Scotland. Starting with the woman getting up in the early hours for her morning run, we see the day play out as rain plagues the holidaymakers. As the day moves on, the tension between the groups start to rise and their attention becomes fixed on the mother and daughter staying in one of the cabins. The people who, the night before, had kept them awake with their loud music. When the same thing happens again, the different groups must decide how to approach the situation. Will their actions lead to something bigger? Or will everyone be able to figure out a compromise?

It’s quite difficult to give a decent summary of this book without giving too much away. Each chapter (if you can call it that) is taken from a different person’s perspective. Through their narrative, we come to understand the difficulties hiding beneath the surface of each family or couple staying at the park. The weather has been particularly bad lately, so there has been very little to do but stay inside. Meaning everyone is left watching everyone else. In each of these vignettes, we learn more about the different groups and their thoughts about their fellow residents of the park. The judgements that come out from simply viewing someone through a window.

Sarah Moss’ writing is what really makes this book so compelling. She not only captures the feeling of those disappointing and claustrophobic family holidays but she understands human nature. The snap decisions that are based on appearance and preconceptions. These are people who are finding themselves both free and enclosed. They are in the middle of nowhere and cut off from society, which means normal rules are out. They can behave as they want to behave and not think about the consequences. Unfortunately, the rain prevents them from being truly free and instead keeps them copped up together. This means that a wonderful tension exists in the book and a dark cloud hangs over each story.

Within all of the perspectives, we see the characters face the weather and go outside. Doing so, they find themselves connected in some way to the world around them. They embrace the landscape and the weather to look deep into themselves. They also face harm and put their lives at risk. Each story pushes you to the edge and leaves you with more questions than it answers. I absolutely love the fact that so much remains unsaid about this book. Everything is fleeting. Before we’ve had time to digest one revelation another is coming along. It’s very well put together. As the book moves on, we get to experience previous events from different viewpoints. The characters are witnessing events that we have already seen but from a totally different perspective. All coming together to show how little you can ever really know just by seeing something.

Summerwater is a wonderful and short reading experience. It’s fast-paced and easy to get through but there is more than enough going on to keep you involved. It offers complex and lyrical writing to accompany the depth of the narrative. It evokes a very specific time, place and feeling but is immediately so familiar. Moss has managed to capture something so inherently human that everyone will be able to get it. You are immersed in the landscape thanks to the luscious descriptive passages and you get a real understanding of the different voices. Each section is unique and creates a distinct personality. I’d only heard good things about this one and it didn’t disappoint.

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