Archive for November 20th, 2021

November 20, 2021

The Fell by Sarah Moss

by Team Riverside
The Fell book cover

Hardback, Picador, £14.99, out now

A wildly tense but very thoughtful novel set during the lockdown of autumn 2020.

Kate, the single mother of teenage son Matt, is ordered to remain at home.  After several days, she feels that she cannot stand it for another minute.  Fell walking near her home is how she usually manages her mental health, and so she decides that a short walk has become essential.  She leaves home without telling her son or anyone else, although she is seen by her next door neighbour Alice who is shielding and unable to leave her house.  She plans to be quick but time passes and she does not come home.  Should her son call the police or rescue services?  What if she is arrested and charged, and cannot afford to pay the fine?  Alice faces the same dilemma, and Alice’s adult children (who have strong views about telling her what to do but seem not very helpful in practice) urge her to tell the police that Kate has illegally left the house.

Kate’s thinking will resonate with many: “She forgets everything these days, stands to reason that when you deprive people of external stimulus their brains slow down, almost a survival strategy, who could bear to be running on all cylinders and locked in like this, you’d go mad, poison yourself with your own fumes”.  While walking, she falls in an isolated spot, and cannot get home.  Dark falls.

The Fell is a very quick read but covers so many important human things.  What are our duties to each other in extreme situations?  How much can we prioritise our needs over those of others?

In addition to the voices of Kate, Matt and Alice, we hear from Rob the mountain rescue guide who is sent to find her.  Rob faces his own challenges: forced to leave his daughter to attend the rescue, she is unhappy and disappointed and is sure to let him know it.  Between these four perspectives, Moss delivers sensitive and relatable thoughts about how lockdowns and individual stay-at-home orders have played out in real life.  These lives touch and overlap and human connections happen.

I did not think I would ever want to read a pandemic novel during a pandemic: there is quite enough of all that going on in my real life without it spilling over into my leisure reading.  But The Fell is the best type of fiction.  It is compelling on its own terms, as I was desperate to find out what happened, but also useful in unpicking what the crisis means about us, as individuals, as communities, and as a society.  This is exactly what Moss is brilliant at, especially in Summerwater and Ghost Wall (see https://riversidebookshop.co.uk/2019/09/08/ghost-wall-by-sarah-moss/).  The Fell is helping me to process what’s going on, and work out what I think about it.

Review by Bethan