Publishing trends come in waves and it’s safe to say we are now in the era of “lockdown literature” with a slew of novels set in or written during the coronavirus epidemic being released into the world. Sarah Moss’s short, suspenseful novel The Fell is a claustrophobic snapshot of winter 2020, a time few of us will forget in a hurry.
Kate, a single mother who thrives outdoors, is slowly being driven mad by a two-week quarantine after contact with an infected person. She decides a short walk on the deserted moors won’t do any harm and if she’s quick, her teenage son Matt won’t even notice. But her shielding neighbour Alice sees her leave the house and as night falls, Matt realises his mother may be in trouble and he needs to raise the alarm.
As Kate’s “simple” walk turns into a mountain rescue operation the tension is ramped up as we hear her internal stream of consciousness and see the effect her absence has on Matt. We learn more about widowed Alice, who provides some dark humour to puncture the suspense. The Peak District setting is almost another character in the book, with its poetic-sounding place names and rough terrain providing the backdrop for a large chunk of the text.
Moss’s prose is impressive. The real-time commentary of one day told from four perspectives has such momentum that the book is difficult to put down. The author’s previous work has dealt with the effects of isolation on the human psyche, and it shows. In another writer’s hands, this might not have worked as well. She deftly weaves a story so compelling that you’ll be disappointed to get to the final page.
The Fell makes for an easy read at less than 200 pages and can be easily completed in one sitting. The novel touches on social responsibility, kindness, and loneliness and makes you ponder your own feelings towards someone who broke the rules to save their sanity.