Do you look at Goodreads ratings when choosing a book? Or when starting a book? I sometimes do, particularly when it’s an author I haven’t come across before. Do I let the ratings influence me? Maybe a smidgen. Which is how I came to read (listen to) The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – I was lured by its massive 4.17 rating on Goodreads. And no, that wasn’t because there were only six reviews, five of them done by the author’s friends. There was a respectable 443 ratings and 82 reviews. The novel had also received glowing reviews when it was released in July. I was sure I was on a winner.
If you’re sensing a ‘however’, you’re correct. But I’ll get to that.
It’s the story of Miriam, a normal, healthy teenager (obnoxious and highly opinionated – so yes, normal), who out-of-the-blue collapses at school and stops breathing. Her collapse changes everything for her family – stay-at-home dad and part-time history lecturer, Adam; hard-working GP mother, Emma; and little sister, Rose. The story is not a medical drama – instead, it’s about family relationships.
Interwoven with Miriam’s story are two other stories – Adam’s father, Eli, tells the children of his own youth, wandering US communes in the sixties. Meanwhile, Adam is writing an historical guide to Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed during WWII and replaced with a controversial modernist building in the 1950s.
So, to the ‘however’. Moss’s writing is lovely in many parts and the characters are serviceable. But the main plot – a child goes into cardiac arrest at school, survives but the cause is unknown – should have had me in knots of fear. Yet it did not.
The rebuilding of the Coventry Cathedral, while a fascinating story, was clearly used as a metaphor to show that the family would have to move on after Miriam’s collapse and find a ‘new normal’.
“Fear hammers along your veins, in your ears, behind your eyes. And fear, it turns out, gives meaning to time. Because the real fear is time – Miriam’s time – will run out.”
However, it felt disjointed and separate from other points that Moss was also trying to make – that the NHS in England is under incredible strain; that there are double-standards about fathers versus mothers being the primary caregiver; that there’s a provisional element to life, particularly as a parent where all can be well one minute, and dire the next.
Despite not thinking much of this particular book, I am going to give Sarah Moss another go (her memoir, Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland has been on my reading list for a while).
2/5 Moss’s writing appeals to me, I just don’t think this book showed off her strengths.
Adam is constantly baking cakes. I’d like to come home to this passion fruit curd loaf cake.
I’m glad to hear that you’re not going to give up on Sarah Moss. I fared better with this one that you but I’d agree about the Coventry Cathedral section which felt very clunky to me.
Which was such a shame because the story about the Cathedral is fascinating and I was prompted to do a little further reading about its history.
I’m intrigued by the fact that Moss seems to be a writer with breadth – from a quick look on Goodreads, it seems she doesn’t stick to just one genre, which I think is interesting.
Names for the Sea is a wonderful account of her year spent in Iceland with her family as a visiting academic. Very funny in places, and a great insight on what it’s like to live in a culture which turns out to be rather more different than she expected! I hope you enjoy it.
I read this book earlier this year and the book captured my interest from the first page. I greatly enjoyed the read, so I am glad you are not planning to give up on Sarah Moss even though this book did not appeal to you. I heard Night Waking is a good one by her.
There were so many sentences that were beautifully written and the character of Miriam was well-done (although started to irritate me a little toward the end with her constant back-chat!) so I will certainly seek out more from Moss.
Ooh, I really liked this one! Do try more of her stuff—big yes to Night Waking, and also Signs for Lost Children.
You’re the second person to suggest Night Waking so I’ll look out for it. Thanks.