The Fell by Sarah Moss
I was suspicious of this short novel when it was first published last year, simply because I’ve never heard the Peak District hills referred to as fells (as they are in the Lake District). A rather ridiculous prejudice, I know, especially when it turned out to be one of this year’s favourite reads.
The story unfolds from four points of view: Kate, her teenage son, her next door neighbour and a mountain rescue volunteer. The stream of consciousness narration – as we follow the characters’ thoughts both piercing and mundane – perfectly encapsulates the sense of isolation many will recognise from lockdown. For me, there was the added bonus of familiarity with the area, albeit not sufficient to be able to pinpoint exactly where she was when she fell. (I then dreamed I’d gone out to trace her route and found it fitted perfectly.)
This novel is set a few months after my forthcoming novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones, ends, but there are a couple of overlaps. Like Kate, one of my characters flees her home’s claustrophobia for an illicit ramble but, being over seventy, she’s meant to be shielding for her own protection rather than to prevent the virus spreading to others. Like Kate’s neighbour, although much younger, I also have a character shielding because he’s undergoing cancer treatment. My novel is a little heavier on the politics, but I think we’re coming from a similar perspective.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Arriving on the island of Isabela via the last ferry, Diana finds her hotel has closed. As have the shops, and the airline has lost her luggage. Plus she can’t speak Spanish. How will she survive?
While most of the locals are suspicious of this lone tourist, the kindness of strangers gives her food, a roof over her head and clothes. As she relaxes, basks in the island’s beauty, she comes to question her super-organised life in New York. So, although she confronts various hurdles, the real problems begin when she gets home.
I loved revisiting the Galápagos through Diana’s eyes. Like her, I was able to sleep on the islands and avoid the massive cruise ships and their hordes, although there were always other tourists around. Like her, I had a sense of loss when the story returned to New York.
As in my forthcoming novel, Lyrics for the Loved Ones, the novel depicts the impact of the pandemic on a care home, through Diana’s attempts to connect with her mother who has dementia. Much to my surprise, Wish You Were Here also has a strand that overlaps with my as-yet-unwritten sequel, currently entitled The Guest List. Unfortunately, to tell you how would be a spoiler for both books.
It’s a book that keeps on giving as there’s also a fictional psychologist who is a poor listener but its main contribution to pandemic literature relates to the pressures on staff and patients in ICU.
The flash fiction prompts are getting curiouser and curiouser. I hadn’t come across the phrase not my monkeys, not my circus until it was a trend on TikTok. These novels having sent me back to 2020 and my rage at Boris Johnson’s government’s lack of responsibility for their mismanagement of the pandemic, I hope my 99 words help clarify what the expression means.
Having sat at their desks the entire afternoon, the chimps deserved to play. The bobby looked the other way as they wheeled crates of wine across the threshold of Number Ten. A party in all but name required an entertainer but the circus wouldn’t break quarantine. A junior minister was delegated to run the disco and Boris, as usual, could act the clown.
The virus? What could they do about it? The hospitals cared for the casualties and the public clapped for the carers on Thursday nights. The monkeys made the rules. They didn’t have to abide by them.