‘The Fell’ by Sarah Moss – highly recommended

At dusk on a November evening in 2020, a woman slips out of her garden gate and turns up the hill. Kate is in the middle of a two-week quarantine period, but she just can’t take it any more – the closeness of the air in her small house, the confinement. And anyway, the moor will be deserted at this time. Nobody need ever know.

But Kate’s neighbour Alice sees her leaving, and Matt, Kate’s son, soon realizes she’s missing. And Kate, who planned only a quick solitary walk – a breath of open air – falls and badly injures herself. What began as a furtive walk has turned into a mountain rescue operation…. 


Sarah Moss’ writing is powerful and relatable. It touches on the big themes that shape our lives and determine our happiness without turning those themes into sterile, debating chamber artefacts. She starts with a situation that most of us are familiar with, populates it with a diverse collection of credible people whose lives touch one another, directly or indirectly through that situation and then takes us inside the private thoughts and emotions that those people have as the events unfold. The result is a multi-faceted picture not just of the situation but of what it means to different people.

This approach makes her novels shorter and more accessible while also making the content richly complex and heightening the emotional impact.

In ‘The Fell’ she uses a simple event, a woman going for a walk on the fell during Lockdown, suffering an injury, becoming benighted and being searched for by the local Mountain Rescue team. We see these events from the point of view of the woman who goes for a walk, even though it’s against rules that she sees the need for because she cannot bear to be confined to her house any longer; her teenage son who is dealing with isolation and being confined with his mother; an older neighbour who is chaffing at being declared ‘Vulnerable’ and effectively being placed under house arrest when she wants to be with her family and to stay in contact with her neighbours; and a member of the search and rescue team who is trying to find a balance between his passion for being part of that team and his commitment to his young wife and their new child.

As she brings these people together, Sarah Moss invites us to think about what Lockdown meant to all of us. How it changed our lives, not just temporarily but permanently. How it challenged our understanding of freedom and community and choice. How it isolated us and forced us to confront our weaknesses and frustrations. How hope and compassion are two of our key survival skills.

I liked that I never once felt that I was being preached at. There was no dogma being promoted here, just the messy complexity of life and its choices. There is room for each reader to come to their own conclusions on the issues of the book. I think it’s one of those books that you find new things in each time you read it and one that feels different now, when the memories of Lockdown are only starting to fade, then it will in ten year’s time when the bubble world it captures will be a thing constructed only in the imagination of the reader.

This is one of those books I recommend to everyone because I connected with it so strongly and because the only way truly to share that connection is to have them read it as well.

I found an interview with Sarah Moss where she talks about ‘The Fell’ and about her writing in general. This is not the usual marketing fluff piece. I think it’s compelling in its own right. Click on the SoundCloud link below and see what you think.

In this Writers Festival Radio podcast, Peter Schneider sits down with the award-winning author of Ghost Wall and Summerwater. Sarah Moss’s latest novel The Fell is a riveting novel of mutual responsibility, personal freedom, and the ever-nearness of disaster.

Sarah Moss’s The Fell is a story of mutual responsibility, personal freedom, and compassion. Suspenseful, witty, and wise, it asks probing questions about how close so many live to the edge and about who we are in the world, who we are to our neighbors, and who we become when the world demands we shut ourselves away.

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