The Fell

It’s contemporary novellas this week on the Novellas in November challenge and I don’t think I’ve read a book this contemporary for, well, years. Set in November 2020, Kate and her teenage son Matt are isolating because they’ve had contact with someone with Covid and their neighbour Alice is isolating because she’s extremely vulnerable.

Two things struck me immediately I started reading, the first was how quickly I had forgotten the minutiae of lockdown rules in England and secondly that Kate, Matt and Alice could have all been characters in Summerwater. Our relations with each other were so well captured in that book, and here again, Sarah Moss manages to capture the essence of human connection as the story unfolds and Kate, who can’t stand the confines of home any longer, starts to walk beyond the garden gate.

As Kate walks, the beauty of the fells and her need for space to breathe alternates with the consequences of her actions. When she falls the writing becomes almost stream of consciousness in her delirium; for Matt and Alice, their anxiety and worry is heightened by confusion over the self-isolating rules and for the mountain rescue team it’s another night away from their own families.

While the story develops into a dramatic search, it’s also a poignant look at the everyday moments we missed and freshly valued. With some fun at the expense of lockdown terminology, I found this an insightful reminder of a very strange time.


When I saw there was a buddy read included in Novellas in November hosted by Cathy and Rebecca I was delighted, surely I could manage one novella in a month? Well, not only did I read it, I lapped it up in one sitting. Claire Keegan was a new author for me and Foster was the most beautiful introduction to her writing.

At first glance it’s a simple story of a young girl in rural Ireland who goes to stay with some relations, the Kinsella’s, while her mother is getting ready for the arrival of a new baby.

Their busy days full of household chores, animals and the farm are described in language as measured as their actions but underneath questions are bubbling and it’s soon apparent that there’s a mutual need for comfort. Time and space, a feeling of belonging and being needed are captured perfectly in 88 unsentimental pages.

A Film For September: La Ciénaga

If I was asked to sum this film up in a sentence it would be that this is the kind of film where the loo seat is always left up.

In the opening scene of La Ciénaga (The Swamp) a group of adults are drinking around the swimming pool of their summer house, the camera swoops in and around them focusing on separate body parts as if it’s another character. Mecha (Graciela Borges) collects some glasses but falls drunkenly. None of the adults come to help or even seem to realise what’s happened, it’s the children watching through a window that pull the glass out of her chest and take her to the hospital.

Mecha’s friend, possibly her cousin, Tali (Mercedes Morán) comes to stay with her own children. There’s now quite a crowd in the stifling heat. Ages range from middle age to young adult to teenager and child. The house is shabbily decadent; the maids are Collas, Indians and accused of stealing; the pool is always filthy; there’s a festering quality to the sunbathing on rusty metal chairs. In the sticky, uncomfortable heat no one wears many clothes and they all sprawl around in each others beds doing nothing for a lot of the time.

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The Lost Daughter

Leda is a middle-aged divorcee who loves her work as an English teacher at the university in Florence. Her grown up daughters are with their father in Canada and she decides to take a holiday on the coast in Southern Italy. She finds an apartment to rent and everyday sets off with her towel and swimming things and works under an umbrella at the beach. Her routine is just as she’d hoped.

But also on the beach are a Neapolitan family who Leda becomes increasingly involved with. What starts as friendship between Leda and the young mother though, begins to unravel the reasons why Leda is not with her daughters and husband and the summer starts to take a menacing and at times, threatening turn.

That Leda feels liberated to be away from her daughters is the starting point for a ‘frank novel of maternal ambivalence’ (The New Yorker), and I liked the way Ferrante talks openly about motherhood. For me Leda’s conflicting feelings over being a mother with a career were the most interesting parts of the book. Her behaviour towards the Neapolitan family and especially Nina and her young daughter Elena I found bizarre and while the feeling of threat was very real and uncomfortable to read I didn’t really have any sympathy for any one. I wouldn’t like to meet any of them on holiday.


So far my 10 Books of Summer has turned up some really good reads but this is the one that I’ve recommended the most. I put it on my list after reading Madamebibilophile’s brilliant review here.

Set in a cabin park in Scotland during the summer solstice, twelve people are on holiday with their families as the rain pours down. From an elderly couple who have been married for years to a couple about to be married, teenagers with their parents, first time parents and couples with young children, we go inside the thoughts and cabins of each of them as they observe and react to their circumstances. But there’s also a mother and daughter who are new to the park and are different and along with the sharp observations there’s a tension that seeps its way through the pages.

Continue reading “Summerwater”

A Film For May: The Woman Who Ran

Written and directed by Hong Sang-soo, this 2020 film from South Korea follows Gam-hee (Kim Min-hee) as she visits two old friends and then meets another by accident in a local arts centre. She’s been married for five years and now that her husband has gone away on a business trip she finds herself alone for the first time. It’s an incredibly simple premise that is played out in three separate sections.

In the first one Gam-hee meets an old friend who is now divorced and enjoying her single life, in the second her friend is a more urbane, dance producer who has a crush on an architect living in the flat above but is being pestered by a man she had a one night stand with. The third person she meets while out to watch a film and is now married to a man that Gam-hee once dated. In each situation the conversation is so natural we could be in the room with them, as their chat wanders from clothes to men to moral questions it’s full of the hesitations and evasions of normal speech.

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My Name is Lucy Barton

On a writing course Lucy Barton is told that ‘we all have only one story to tell‘. Now a successful writer she remembers a time in the mid 1980’s when she was first living in New York with her husband and two young daughters and a trip to hospital for a routine operation lasted for nine weeks.

One day she realises that her mother, who she hasn’t seen for years, is sitting by her hospital bed. She stays for five days and through their conversations we get Lucy’s story. Memories of poverty, humiliation and loneliness are told in a solid, unfussy style. She speaks directly to us, as her memories and her mothers anecdotes interrupt and overlap each other and she wonders about the vagaries of her memory as she thinks about her life.

‘We were oddities, our family, even in that tiny rural town of Amgash, Illinois.’

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The Reverend John Ames has lived in the small town of Gilead in Iowa nearly all his life. His father was a preacher and both grandfathers. Born in 1880 It’s now 1956 and he’s an elderly man knowing he doesn’t have long to live. So he begins to write a letter to his seven year old son ‘to tell you things I would have told you if you had grown up with me, things I believe it becomes me as a father to teach you.’

In a voice that is calm and authoritative the Reverend Ames tells his son about his life and beliefs about his friends and family and perhaps most beautiful of all, he describes their present life, the everyday happenings in their little family of three.

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The Silence Of The Girls

In the narrow Lanes of Lyrnessus Achilles is leading his men as they ransack the Trojan city in revenge for the kidnapping of Helen. Once all the men are killed the women are taken to the Greek soldiers’ camp as slaves. Briseis the queen is given as a prize to Achilles, the man who butchered her family and it’s her story that’s central to this retelling of The Iliad.

I found this shocking and upsetting but incredibly compelling, the domestic lives of the women and their children amidst the biblical brutality of bored and frustrated warriors.

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A Film For April: Sweet Bean

Based on the novel Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa this 2015 film directed by Naomi Kawase is a slow and gentle story about three people on the margins of society bought together by cooking.

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man weighed down by his past. He runs a small bakery selling dorayaki to locals, getting up early to make the pancakes. An elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), responds to his advertisement for help and after a while he grudgingly accepts her offer, while noticing her crippled hands. She is overjoyed at the prospect of working but horrified by the offensively large plastic bucket of wholesale bean paste he uses for the filling. Carefully she shows him how to make it himself, listening to the beans and watching, watching. Word soon gets around about the new dorayaki recipe and the shop becomes a destination. But when rumours spread that Tokue’s hands have been disfigured by leprosy, Sentaro has to let her go.

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