Many current books treat the Covid pandemic in one of two ways. They either try and incorporate it into the plot or they just ignore it all together and imagine a world in which it just didn’t happen. In Sarah Moss’s latest book The Fell, Covid and the impacts of quarantine and isolation due to Covid on British people is central to the plot.
The Fell centres around four characters. Kate and her teenage son Matt are in isolation following a close contact. The two live in a small house with a garden on the edge of the Peak District. Before they had to isolate they had been doing the shopping for their elderly neighbour Alice who keeps in touch with her family by eating meals with them over video calls. And finally there is Rob, part of mountain rescue who is brought in to search for Kate after she goes for an illegal walk into the Peaks at dusk and goes missing.
Much like her previous book, Summerwater, The Fell is stream of consciousness writing. Long rambling paragraphs that give deep insight into the state of mind of each character. And central to that state of mind is the impacts of the lockdown – the fear of human contact but also of breaking the law, the need to protect society by staying indoors, the crushing nature of isolation when wide open spaces where one can be truly alone beckon across the back fence, the tension between wanting to help and abiding by the new social normal. As with Moss’s other work, each of the four characters emerges vividly from this treatment. Even badly injured, freezing and in pain when Kate considers being rescued she hides away, worried about the reaction to the fact that she broke her isolation and may be jailed as a result. But even in around that Moss explores the small moments of kindness and connection that made the lockdowns bearable – Matt and Kate shopping for Alice, Alice giving biscuits to Matt.
While Covid still rages, now that most of the world is out of lockdown The Fell almost feels like a piece of historical fiction. But it is an important piece, a reflection on a global psychological experiment that separated people from each other, locked them in their houses and criminalised social connection and movement. Moss deals with this deeply and compassionately and does not go for any sort of resolution or easy answers, but for some that history may be a little too recent to make the journey enjoyable.