I was gifted a free eARC* of this book by the publisher, via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
*eARC: electronic Advance Review Copy
Author: Sarah Moss
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release Date: August 20th
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary
Summerwater by Sarah Moss is beautifully imagined. Set in a cabin park in Scotland and told over the course of a singly rainy summer’s day, it offers up a wide range of perspectives, characters, emotions and stories. It almost blurs the line between novel and short story, with each section focusing on the inhabitants of a different cabin. This changing of perspectives meant the day felt much longer than it really was for me — too much seemed to be happening to all be contained within a single day but, of course, it was 12 days in a way, with each family experiencing the day differently.
The amount of characters in this did get a little bit confusing at times. Much of the novel is based on the characters observing one another (on a day of pouring rain, what better way to pass the time than judging the neighbours?), so there was a lot of casting my mind back to remember if there had been a section from the perspective of certain characters as they were mentioned by others. Having characters crop back up again in this way requires a lot of intricacy and plotting of characters’ locations at different times of the day to ensure the piece stays consistent, and as far as I can tell, Sarah Moss pulls this off! Despite only getting to spend a short amount of time with each of the characters before moving on, I felt like they were all very well fleshed out. There weren’t any characters that stood out to me as ‘the main characters’, which for a novel like this, is a great achievement.
The tone of this novel is really difficult to pin down, because it varies so much throughout the novel. One thing that remains fairly consistent, however, is a sense of dread, or some sense of foreboding. Perhaps this is more evident in hindsight, but every story has something ominous hanging over it, some more obviously than others. The ending wasn’t really for me, personally. While it did feel like it was built towards thematically, it didn’t feel quite fitting, in a way I can’t quite place my finger on. I think it was a bit rushed, but I shan’t say any more so as not to spoil it!
Sarah Moss’ writing is really impressive. Each perspective feels markedly different from every other one, despite the characters sharing a lot of things in common with one another. Between each perspective is a short interlude, describing the world as it goes on around these characters, which is a kind of writing I really love. These descriptive, characterless passages remain short, so they don’t make the already slow pace painful, and they don’t become obnoxious (although I do love some obnoxiously descriptive writing on occasion…). As I mentioned, this is definitely a slow paced book: it takes place over a single day! Despite this, the book never dragged for me. So many mundane tasks are performed in this novel, but the switch in perspectives and unique voices meant it never felt repetitive or dull. I enjoyed working out how the characters’ paths crossed, how their experience of this particular day coincided with everyone else’s.
I also found the brevity of Summerwater quite refreshing! The majority of the books I read are over 300 pages, I would say, and Summerwater, at just over 200 pages, achieves a lot in such a short space of time. Some of the characters I perhaps would have liked to spend more time with, but they were all still very well fleshed out in the space they were allotted. This book really does fly by despite the slow pace, so if you’re looking for a quick, engaging read, this might well be for you.
For some reason, while the characters were all well-written and developed, I didn’t really feel very connected to any of them, which I think is partly down to how short the sections often are. I can’t remember any characters that I liked, just ones I wanted to know a bit more about. This is, I suppose, a natural sacrifice that has to be made when writing such a short book containing so many perspectives. The other thing is that non of the characters are meant to be very likeable, in my opinion. We see inside their heads, we see their flaws, their judgements, their failings. I felt sympathetic towards some characters, but only on a very surface level, and I do like to feel really involved in characters’ lives, which is what this book lacked for me due to the form.
Overall, I did enjoy reading Summerwater, and I would definitely pick up more books by Sarah Moss in the future. I really like the premise, but I think perhaps if there were fewer perspectives, the reader could connect more to the characters and feel more emotionally invested in the story.
This book contains scenes of a sexual nature, as well as characters thinking about sex. The majority of the sexual content is in ‘Zanzibar’, for anyone who may wish to avoid this. There are sexual references elsewhere in the novel, but no other sex scenes.
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This review also published on NetGalley, GoodReads and The StoryGraph.