Review: The Fell - Sarah Moss
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Picador, November 11th 2021
My Rating: 3/5 stars
On a dusky night in November 2020, a woman breaks her quarantine to escape the claustrophobia of her own home for a walk on the moors. She plans to be back within a few hours. Nobody will ever need to know she even left… An unlucky fall turns a short walk into a mountain rescue operation, against the background of a global health crisis. Capturing the feeling of isolation, paradoxically combined with heightened social pressure, and other unique anxieties of the 2020 pandemic, Sarah Moss’s latest work serves as a time capsule to a recent past we hope to leave forever behind.
Sarah Moss’ work has been an automatic purchase for me ever since 2014 when I first encountered her work and her talent as an author is above questioning in my mind. That being said: I feel there’s been a break in style within her oeuvre from 2016 onwards. Most exemplary of “older Sarah’s” writing to me is The Tidal Zone, my personal favourite of hers. It follows the fallout of a small but life-changing event that changes sends a rippling effect throughout a family. It’s an intimate and insightful character portrait, that left a deep impression on me. The new Era of Sarah includes Ghostwall, Summerwater, and now The Fell, and is characterised by shorter works, written in a more stream-of-consciousness tone, taking place over the course of a few days. They combine slice of life descriptions of often mundane things with a (often less than subtly introduced) current socio-political issue. As you can probably guess: I strongly prefer “Old Sarah” over her newer work.
My review of The Fell is, for that reason, going to have a lot of overlap with my review of Summerwater: they both do a wonderful job of capturing the feeling of a time and a place (Summerwater captures the post-brexit climate in England, and The Fell pinpoints the specific anxieties of the 2020 Lockdown). On the other hand, both are só minimalistic to the point of feeling mundane and bare-boned. Whenever I think back on The Fell, I foresee myself supplementing the story with my own quarantine memories, as none of the actual characters or their lives were memorable enough to stick, leaving only the feeling this book left me with.
You can debate the merit of being able to vividly capture a snapshot of a year in the British “Zeitgeist”, and whether that’s enough to make a successful novel. It’s a valid choice if it’s a conscious one, and authors like Ali Smith seem to have made a career out of it. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that New-Sarah often reminds me a bit too closely of Ali Smiths work. It makes my job of recommending either easier: if you like one, you’ll most likely enjoy the other. In my personally opinion though, since we already have Ali, I hope Sarah makes a return to her original form.
Many thanks to Picador for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. The Fell is available for purchase from November 11th 2021 onwards in digital and physical format. Links are available on Goodreads.