Sarah Moss is nary alien to pandemic fiction. She made her novelistic debut successful 2009 with Cold Earth, an apocalyptic communicative of six archaeologists connected a distant Greenland excavation who travel to realise that a microorganism circulating erstwhile they acceptable disconnected has mutated into thing altogether much catastrophic successful their absence. As connection with the extracurricular satellite breaks down and hopes of returning location falter, they’re forced to face their interior demons.
For the quartet whose minds Moss inhabits successful her caller novel, The Fell, what’s longed for amid the pestilence is flight from location and family. Set successful the Peak District, it begins 1 dank November dusk successful 2020, arsenic Kate, a fortysomething azygous mum and furloughed waitress who’s been self-isolating with her son, Matt, for 10 days, yet snaps. She’s tried decluttering, yoga and pacing the plot way trailed by the cat, but it’s the scenery conscionable beyond their gross that she craves, that she needs.
Kinder Low, Swine’s Back, Edale Rocks: there’s poesy successful those spot names, and their varied terrain and ever-changing upwind supply a crisp opposition with the static indoors world, a spot captured done a bid of claustrophobia-inducing observations astir stale aerial and oppressive aromas. Even endlessly refreshed web pages are stubbornly unchanging. When Kate puts her hiking boots connected and breaks quarantine, promising herself it’s conscionable for “a sip of outside”, you can’t assistance feeling for her. But, arsenic is truthful often the lawsuit successful Moss’s work, it’s destined to beryllium an ill-fated expedition.
Matt, 16, a touching quality contempt himself, is oblivious astatine first, and though Kate is spotted by their widowed neighbour, Alice, the older pistillate has been shielding for months truthful doesn’t halt her. Only the 4th of Moss’s characters, divorced Rob, has licence to beryllium retired and about; the information that helium soon volition be, with nighttime falling and the fog closing in, is simply a precise atrocious motion so for Kate, due to the fact that helium is portion of the upland rescue service.
Moss has ever been adept astatine plumbing the psyche’s inkier depths, and arsenic she flits betwixt people, channelling the escaped indirect benignant that gave her past novel, Summerwater, specified polyphonic momentum, their anxieties heighten a gathering consciousness of existential doom. Interestingly, though these span everything from the clime exigency to the degradation of connection and zombie mink, Covid itself is mode down the list, functioning much arsenic an intensifying trigger.
Likewise, adjacent to Kate herself, the suspenseful organising play – her perchance lethal misadventure successful the hills – tin look but a insignificant diversion successful the larger metaphysical spectacle that is, well, beingness successful the 21st-century. It’s nary surprise, then, that the novel’s ending doesn’t supply rather the merchandise oregon comfortableness that mightiness beryllium expected, contempt its outcome.
Indeed, 1 of the astir profoundly unsettling attributes of The Fell is the mode it questions that elemental root of quality succour: storytelling. As Kate reflects: “One of the things we’re learning, we of the extremity times, is that humanity’s ending appears to beryllium slow, lacking successful cliffhangers oregon so immoderate satisfactory communicative shape; characterised, for the lucky, by the gradual vindication of accumulating dread.”
“Accumulating dread” is what Moss atomises truthful brilliantly present but it should beryllium added that this is besides a precise comic book. All of the characters stock a definite doomy drollness, with Alice musing connected however there’s thing rather similar cooking to enactment you disconnected your dinner, for instance, and Kate wondering of a raven that accompanies her connected her amerciable hike: “Are you a tone usher oregon my mother? Oh God, what if it’s both.”
There is an abundance of generosity, too. Though they’re kept isolated (in different benignant of narrative, surely romanticist sparks would flicker betwixt Rob and Kate), by the clip the caller ends the pursuing dawn, each of the quartet, successful their ain way, person travel to admit that to beryllium quality is to beryllium blameworthy – done error, if not intent.
With its unwavering interiority and meticulously excavated disquiet, The Fell is simply a caller definite to beryllium seized upon by scholars successful the future. But what of readers successful 2021? Lacking the dystopian romance of Sarah Hall’s Burntcoat, say, oregon the glamour and verve of Gary Shteyngart’s Our Country Friends – some of which are besides acceptable against the backdrop of the pandemic – The Fell is astir excessively faithful an artefact. For the clip being, galore readers, specified arsenic Moss’s ain Alice, whitethorn similar to scope for a dog-eared Lord Peter Wimsey than this aggravated clip capsule of a tale.