Twenty-four hours in the Scottish countryside, twelve people are staying in holiday cabins beside an isolated loch. Summerwater by Sarah Moss starts off with strangers concerned with the minutiae of their own lives and ends with a tragedy.
This is beautifully written with sly humour coupled with sensory description of the place which puts you right there. The pace is slow and contemplative, taking time to plait together the observations by characters and the actual names, so carefully building together a picture of a temporary community. At first, they make assumptions and generalisations about each other. A retired couple sit and look out at the rain, reminiscing about the previous years they spent in this cabin. A young mother runs in all weathers and at all times of day, leaving her husband to look after the children. A teenager escapes the boredom of his bedroom by kayaking around the loch. The Romanian family, who party all night and don’t know how to behave, are the only ones seeming to have fun on holiday. They are also the only ones whose viewpoint we don’t hear, setting them apart from the rest. While at night a shadow stands in the woods, watching.
I never did get the identity of some characters straight in my head and the building of tension – the shadow in the woods – didn’t convince me. I didn’t feel it was necessary as I quickly became fascinated by the setting and the gradual interaction of characters. The constant rain acts as a claustrophobia device keeping everyone inside, feeling trapped, looking out and watching others, making judgements.
Summerwater is also darkly funny. Don’t miss the chuckle-out-loud scene when Milly and Josh are having sex but she’s thinking about a cup of tea and a bacon butty. The chapters about people are alternated with short sections about the natural world – a deer and fawn, the geology of the rocks, the origin of water flowing into the loch, bats, birds waiting for the rain to stop. These briefly pause the story – most are two paragraphs long – but add to the sense of place.
Most definitely not a page-turner in the thriller sense, Summerwater ends abruptly. It is however thick with atmosphere. The rain, the wet vegetation, the finger-chilling cold, the sense of the holiday park, the loch and earth being much older than the visitors. It is a book about a day in which not a lot happens, showing how small things become big when you are bored, and how we are all inter-connected.
BUY THE BOOK
Here’s my review of Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss.
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
SUMMERWATER by Sarah Moss #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-4SD via @SandraDanby