Review published on March 14, 2017.
Having just finished Night Waking, a previous novel from Sarah Moss that I really enjoyed, I leapt on The Tidal Zone expecting great things. Miriam is a precocious teenager and the daughter of Adam, who narrates most of the novel. When she collapses unexpectedly at school one day and is hospitalised for several weeks the family is plunged into a world of uncertainty as they wait to find out what is wrong with her and whether she will recover. Alongside this main narrative are entwined two side stories from the past – one featuring Adam’s father as he travels from commune to commune across America as a young man and the other a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, the project that Adam is working on.
The three stories are weaved together seamlessly, providing relief from the agonising wait that Adam is going through and representing (to my mind, at least) life without the conveniences of modern medicine and the prevailing of the human spirit. That said, the limitations of modern medicine are also in evidence and it was interesting to have the expectations of Adam confounded by questions that couldn’t be answered. However far we’ve come there is still a lot further to go and are we right to expect the fragility of life and the fear of its loss to ever go away? How would it alter progress and ambition if they did?
It was a slow, ponderous read and I felt it was a little constrained by Adam’s perspective and his determinedly middle-class point of view. I found the ceaseless angst from him regarding a very comfortable existence irritating – perhaps this was deliberate but I found it alienating. I probably shouldn’t have read it straight after Night Waking as I found there was a lot of repetition in terms of the family dynamic, mainly to do with clever children and frustrated house-bound parents.
That said, it did make me think and it was very well put together. I found myself questioning my assumptions about the human body and what can be done to fix it. It defined the sense of isolation, relationship-fracturing and emotional adjustment that can occur when one member of a family is in danger. Life goes on but differently – there is ‘a new normal’, as the novel says.
There is no doubt that Sarah Moss is an incisive and intelligent writer but The Tidal Zone didn’t move me quite as I’d hoped.
Mel Mitchell 3*
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss, published by Granta on 7 July, 2016 in paperback
Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017
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