Favourite authors, I think, are a rarity. Whenever I’m who my favourite author is, I find it so often depends on my mood as to what my answer will be. If I’m feeling intense it may be Donna Tartt or Joan Didion. If I’m feeling disenchanted, Richard Yates. Inquisitive and hopeful, J.K. Rowling. And yet, with the exception of Tartt, I do not like all the books each of these authors have written, which I feel ought to be part of the equation.
I’ve not read everything Sarah Moss has written, not yet, but I have a feeling she may combine the two. Night Walking, as with her other books, is beautifully written, questioning elements of society in such a real way I almost forget her characters aren’t real.
“Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins. Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby’s skeleton in the garden of their house. Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders. The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women’s vexed and passionate relationship with work. Moss’s second novel displays an exciting expansion of her range – showing her to be both an excellent comic writer and a novelist of great emotional depth.” GoodReads.
As per usual with my experience of literature, I failed to notice the funny hiding in this novel. Which I put down to being neither married or a mother. I think many of Anna, Ralph or Moth’s actions may have amused someone more understanding of how frustrating being a mother, wife and human with a career can be.
I loved the depiction of motherhood, and struggling to balance a career when you – and not your husband – is the one expected to make the sacrifices. Moss is so honest, motherhood is hard, no woman is perfect. Women, as well as men, put a lot of pressure and expectation on how they think you should be caring for your children.
Why can’t women have their career and interests outside of caring for their children? This is partly what Moss addresses in the protagonist Anna, struggling to care for, and sometimes even love, her family. She wants to be there for her children, but she also wants her autonomy.
Alongside Anna’s story, is May’s. A nurse on the Island some 100 years before. Moss readers will recognise her from Bodies of Light. She is trying to counter the trends and culture of the time, where superstition prevents her from being able to perform the task she was brought to the island to do. However, this is nicely balanced with the idea of a colonialism of sorts, where the rich rule the island with little thought to the locals and their ways.
For a while, Anna and May’s stories seem rather far apart. Yet they gel together nicely in ways you may not expect, questioning traditions old and new.
I never expected to enjoy a novel about motherhood, but this Night Walking has claimed me. I love Moss’s writing, the beauty and intelligence of it.
I’m going to read everything she has written.
Have you read any Sarah Moss novels?