Summerwater by Sarah Moss

Set over the course of one day at the height of summer in a run-down Scottish cabin park in the Trossachs, Summerwater is a short novella (not so easy to tell when reading on a kindle) that gives us access to the innermost thoughts of the inhabitants of six of these cabins – one from each in the morning and another in the afternoon.

With so many different viewpoints, it is almost like a series of linked short stories and does feel a bit disjointed at times. The stream of consciousness style of writing gives the reader a unique insight into every thought and feeling that passes through the character’s mind; in some cases we get the same situation from both partners, and the difference in their thoughts is very revealing.

Anyone who has ever taken a similar holiday in Scotland will be familiar with this type of weather; it’s par for the course. What I found strange was that very few of them ventured out, allowing themselves to be stuck indoors, as you don’t go to Scotland for the weather. One lady goes running, a teenage boy goes for a trip in his kayak, and the elderly couple go out in the car; otherwise everyone else mostly stays indoors. The writing emphasises the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped and shut in.

By being party to the thoughts of each of the characters, we learn that they watch each other, but there is very little interaction between them. There are some Ukrainians in one cabin having parties and playing loud music late into the night; also an ex-soldier camping in the woods. We do not hear what they are thinking which only adds to the suspicion and the tension.   

Each of the characters has a distinct voice, but some of their thoughts are a bit insular and depressing. Between each chapter is a short piece on the natural world surrounding the park; perhaps a reminder that the humans are not the only creatures living there.

I have not read anything by Sarah Moss before, but will definitely try some of her earlier novels as the quality of the atmospheric prose more than made up for the abrupt and unsatisfying ending.

Thanks to Picador and NetGalley for a copy to review.