• The Fiction Fox

Review: The Tidal Zone - Sarah Moss


Gerne: literary fiction, contemporary

Published: Granta Books, July 2016

My Rating: 5/5 stars


“Suddenly, you will stop, you and me and all of us. Your lungs will rest at last and the electric pulse in your pulse will vanish into the darkness from which it came. Put your fingers in your ears, lay your head on the pillow, listen to the footsteps of your blood. You are alive.” There is a universal truth that we all know to be true, but can’t quite fathom in all its gravity: we are always just one breath away from disaster. It’s thanks to the mercy of our mind’s compartmentalisation, that we can put that knowledge on a backburner and live our everyday lives worry-free. Tragedy happens to others, not to us, and certainly not to our partners, friends or (God forbid) children… Right…? But what happens if this protective bubble of rationalisation is burst wide open, the moment we come face to face with the loss of our own life, or that of a loved one? The Tidal Zone explores the aftermath of such an event. An event that will send ripples throughout the lives of the people involved, far passed what outsiders will see. What began as any other day ends in a parent’s worst nightmare for Adam, when his 15-year old daughter Miriam collapses and stops breathing while at school, for no apparent reason. Her condition is labled idiopathic anaphylaxis: a severe and potentially deadly allergic reaction to an unknown stimulus. In other words: the doctors don’t exactly know what causes it, and therefore have no way of knowing if and when this will ever happen again. Despite the fact that Miriam survives without any physical damage, the ordeal leaves a permanent mark on the entire family. The Tidal Zone follows the way each family member moves forward, and the push and pull of their different strategies, that may drive them apart or unite them even stronger. The Tidal Zone was a beautifully crafted, layered experience that left a deep impression on me. What could have easily become a melodramatic or overly-heavy slog was kept light through its relatable and likable characters. Most easy to like is Miriam herself, as a smart and sassy teen, who doesn’t take any over-protective “bullshit” from her dad. But cautious and protective stay-at-home dad Adam, and rational Emma who uses her medical knowledge as a GP to build up a wall, also make for a lovable cast. Sarah Moss manages to pack an impressive layered experience in such a short and compact book. Not only emotionally layered; demonstrating the juggling of a life altering event with the mundanity of everyday life, but also thematically layered. Through the eyes of Emma, we get an insight into the British NHS, experienced as a GP and as a mother. Through Adam’s eyes we see the echoes of his own childhood and relationship with his father, mirrored in his approach to his daughter. We also see parallels with Adams personal fascination: the reconstruction of the nearby Covenant Cathedral, which initially feels out of place, but is woven neatly into the narrative. Overall The Tidal Zone is, in my humble opinion, close to a masterpiece, only held back by some minor pacing-issues around the 60%-mark. Considering everything else it managed to do, that was easily forgivable. On a personal note: The Tidal Zone has a deeper layer of personal connection to me, due to my own history and experiences. I too almost lost my life due to a potentially deadly illness as a child, and experienced this “realisation of mortality” alongside my family at a young age. Adding to the similarities, I also have one parent who is a GP, and am currently in training as a doctor myself. Safe to say, I recognised a lot of myself in this book, which I haven’t seen anywhere else in fiction so far. Many books (for better or worse) take on the topic of grief, and even grief over the loss of a child. No book I’ve read before has ever covered grief over a death that could’ve happened, and the crushing fear that comes from knowing it could still happen at any time. I’ve seen people disliking this novel for being about “overprotective parenting” or “exaggerated mundane fears”. I’ve even seen “how long can you milk something that didn’t even happen”. This is exactly the kind of response that family’s like Miriams, and like mine, will realistically encounter, and it pains me to see this level of misunderstanding from people who haven’t been in this situation. I’m so thankful and glad that this book exists, and was in the hands of an eloquent, compassionate and capable author such as Moss. I's without a doubt her best work to date.


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