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A tense, atmospheric read

In a row of cabins along a Scottish loch, families are trying to enjoy their summer holiday. It’s been bucketing down for several days and claustrophobia is setting in. Siblings are bickering, parents’ tempers flare. (Been there?) Bored, they observe each other through the ‘French doors’ of their cheaply built wooden cabins. Some venture out and some are sent out, mostly to relive the tension building inside. Summerwater by Sarah Moss, is a quietly unsettling little book that deals with family life, secrets and conflict, set in an ominous world, which I consumed in one sitting.

We get inside the mind of a frustrated teenage boy desperate for a proper phone signal, a newly engaged woman pondering the idea of sex with the same man for the rest of her life, a mother on an hour’s break from her young kids unable to decide how to use her time, an elderly man observing his increasingly forgetful wife. Every day, but oh so relatable, events from normal lives which remind us that we never really know what goes on in the minds of the people living closest to us.

Moss also hints at larger themes. Frustrations are growing with the cabin of Eastern Europeans (Polish? Bulgarian?) from where music is blasting all night. She never takes us inside that cabin, but makes us watch it, distrustfully, from the outside. Brexit hovers in the background. ‘You’re supposed to have left, you know, people like you, did you not get the message?’ a young girl shouts to the girl with the foreign sounding name. All the while, the strange, unseasonal weather throws ominous shadows over the future.

You read this book mostly for the journey, not for the denouement, which felt strangely anti-climactic despite its drama. But the journey itself is more than worth it and Sarah Moss writes with a nerve and light touch that had me utterly absorbed.

Summerwater by Sarah Moss is published by Picador, 200 pages.

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