Book review: Sarah Moss – The Fell

Sarah Moss is the award-winning author of several novels including Cold Earth, Night Waking, selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011, Bodies of Light, Signs for Lost Children and The Tidal Zone, all shortlisted for the prestigious Wellcome Prize, and is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick in England.

The Fell, Sarah Moss’ first novel since 2020’s nightmarish Summerwater, addresses the pandemic, lockdown, and self-isolation using a similar narrative structure to its predecessor. Despondent and grim, it’s a reminder of 2020 and the way in which many were quick to judge the actions of those that did not stick strictly to the rules around social interaction and travel. The Fell is an exploration of what it is to be human while in isolation.

At dusk on a November evening in 2020, a woman heads out of her garden gate and turns up the hill. Kate is in the midst of a two-week quarantine period, but she just can’t take it anymore – the closeness of the air in her small house, the confinement. And, in the belief that her destination will certainly be quiet at this time, she thinks she is safe in that it’s unlikely that anyone will ever find her out.

Kate’s neighbour Alice, however, sees her leaving and Matt, Kate’s son, soon realises that she’s missing. Kate, who had simply planned a quick solitary walk out in the open air, falls and badly injures herself. It’s at this stage that a conversation with a raven begins, as she critiques her own decisions and wonders the best way to get out of this formidable situation she has found herself in, with her key worry being that she could not afford the fine for having left her front door.

Observationally astute, witty, and considered, The Fell asks probing questions about the place the world has become since March 2020, and the place it was before, with a key focus on humanity. It navigates themes of compassion and kindness and what we must do to survive, and, for better or worse, it will bring you back to those mentally difficult moments in 2020. 

Using informative, yet literary, prose and an alternate-character-perspective chapter structure throughout, Moss introduces some rather intriguing personalities, and provides a key insight into some of the issues that the pandemic and lockdown in 2020 raised. This is not a novel for those wishing to escape that period in their lives. 

The Fell is out now, published by Picador

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