The Fell by Sarah Moss review – a perspective on the pandemic

During the lockdown of winter 2020, a woman breaks her quarantine to head out to the hills – then disaster strikes

At the beginning of all this, when the lucky ones were hiding out at home disinfecting their groceries and baking bread, some wondered what impact the pandemic would have on fiction. Would people write Covid novels? Or would this be the kind of thing fiction ignored, the way it neglected to include mobile phones or the internet or climate change for such a long time? Now, 18 months on and with no end in sight, it seems ever more important that fiction acknowledge the truths the pandemic has revealed to us: how connected we all are, and how much we fear one another. Enter Sarah Moss’s eighth novel, The Fell.

Set in the Peak District over one night in November 2020, like Moss’s previous novel, Summerwater, The Fell explores isolation and claustrophobia through the various perspectives of a group of geographically proximate people. Alice is a retiree, classified as “vulnerable” because of her recent cancer treatment; she is brought groceries by her teenage neighbour Matt and his mother Kate (his father is nowhere in sight). Rob is a local volunteer with search and rescue efforts; it’s his night with his daughter, and he wants to look after her, but is called out to an emergency on the fell. Kate, after contact with a Covid-infected person in the cafe where she waitresses, has been unable to abide a 10-day quarantine; she takes off at dusk into the nearby hills without a mobile phone. At first the outing is invigorating – Kate sings folk songs and carols to herself as she walks. But at some point she falls, and then night falls, and it’s unclear how she is going to survive.

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