On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.
Summerwater was inspired by a family holiday that Sarah Moss had in Scotland where it relentlessly rained.
‘You can’t wait for the fucking weather, not here, you’ll be dead before it stops raining.’
The story revolves around twelve very different families over a twenty four hour period. But in fact, they have a lot more in common with each other than they actually realise.
‘…who the fuck goes on holiday where there isn’t even a chippy?’
This book is a ‘people-watchers’ dream. After all, what else is there to do when it’s pouring down outside? You’ve just spent a small fortune on a musty old cabin in the woods, and the sun seems like a long distant memory. You’d sit and watch the world go by from inside that cabin and judge each other of course! That’s what I would do anyway. Get my moneys worth one way or another. British holidays are a lot to be desired at times.
‘People get on best, in Claire’s view, when they’re apart at least half the time…’
We get to meet bored young children and angsty teenagers, newly engaged young things and married couples whose relationships have become stagnant and barely tolerable as they approach old age.
What they all have in common is they are disgruntled by the weather, their lives in general, and most of all each other.
‘What do you want, Josh whispers in her ear. A cup of tea and a bacon bap, she thinks, would be excellent, but she says kiss me…’
We’ve all been there, those family holidays where we try our hardest to make the best of a bad situation. Sitting indoors with no phone signal or WiFi can force our minds back into the real world, whether we like it or not. What is it about the British, is it really such a strain to talk and connect with each other?
‘Have a bath, he said’ …Women’s magazines always say that, a long scented bath, as if everything from baby weight to infidelity will dissolve in enough hot water, as if you can spend enough on bath salts to cover the smell of self-loathing and rage.’
In between each chapter, Moss delicately brings in another aspect to the story. Brief, evocative description of the surroundings, vignette style chapters which connect the surrounding natural world to the characters. Whilst reading these, they gave me welcomed respite from the character-driven trope. A breather almost, to prepare me for the next ‘human’ instalment.
‘You probably don’t notice when you’re in your prime, do you; in fact, if you’re thinking about your prime it’s almost certainly over.’
What I loved most about Summerwater was it’s simple concept mixed with the complexities of being human, being loved and being angry.
This story is littered with a dark humour I wasn’t expecting. I experienced real hearty belly laughs on numerous occasions. I read some of it in the bathtub too, soaking away my own ‘self-loathing and rage’! At one point I looked up into the bathroom mirror and saw my facial expression which I think was mixture of a ‘knowing smirk’ and a deep connective understanding. I read about 30 pages towards the end out loud to myself as I had a few hours on my own. I wanted to properly ‘hear’ the characters’ voices. The dialogue was chatty, easy. The descriptions breathtakingly beautiful.
The final few pages of Summerwater was phenomenal. I’ll say no more on that subject, I suggest you read it.
This is the first time I’ve read anything by Sarah Moss, and I’m delighted to discover she has a back catalogue which I will definitely get through.
I’ll leave you with a final quote, from Justine. She’s a Mum of two with a running-obsession, but what is she REALLY running from? She was definitely my most favourite character of all;
‘…old ladies, powder and lipstick to totter to the corner shop with one of those trolleys because they’ve not bothered to lift anything heavier than a biscuit since the menopause…’
Big thanks to Sarah Moss and Picador for sending me an advanced copy via the NetGalley platform in exchange for an honest review.