This review comes with a hint of struggle; because I’ve just finished a brilliant book and it’s playing on my mind. Also, Signs For Lost Children, while of the usual Moss high-quality, didn’t engage me in the same way Tidal Zone, Bodies of Light or Night Walking did.
“Only weeks into their marriage a young couple embark on a six-month period of separation. Tom Cavendish goes to Japan to build lighthouses and his wife Ally, Doctor Moberley-Cavendish, stays and works at the Truro asylum. As Ally plunges into the institutional politics of mental health, Tom navigates the social and professional nuances of late 19th century Japan. With her unique blend of emotional insight and intellectual profundity, Sarah Moss builds a novel in two parts from Falmouth to Tokyo, two maps of absence; from Manchester to Kyoto, two distinct but conjoined portraits of loneliness and determination. ” GoodReads.
Signs for Lost Children follows on from Bodies of Light, telling the story of Ally Moberly-Cavendish and her husband Tom during the first year of their marriage. While Tom goes off to Japan for six months for work, Ally begins working at an Insane Asylum in the women’s ward.
It was Tom’s story that failed to interest me, partially because Japanese History isn’t something I natural want to investigate, but predominantly because Ally is the character I am fascinated with.
Ally finally confronts the psychological damage her mother inflicted on her as a child in this book, finding an affinity with the women in the asylum that influences the direction of the treatment of the mentally ill women staying there. She recognises that some of the women there are driven to ‘madness’ to escape their environments, and to be treated as if they aren’t human isn’t going to fix them. She suffers a breakdown at the asylum, that leads her to reassess her life, and accept who how she is.
Tom spends his time in Japan wanting to learn more about the culture, to respect it where other colonials aren’t, yet still manages to trip over himself in the attempt. He falls in love with the country, where he will never really be able to assimilate, and it becomes unclear if he will return the same person as he left.
Where the two narratives come together, Tom and Ally’s, is in the foxes; and to avoid spoilers that’s all I shall say on that.
Sarah Moss has become my favourite author this last year, her prose is so good I can barely find the words to describe my almost abstract love of her work. I’m not sure how I will cope in 2017 without another novel from her.