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Escape To A Picturesque Scotland In Sarah Moss' 'Summerwater'


A summer's getaway on a picturesque loch in Scotland in your own wee cabin surrounded by festive families - sounds idyllic, no? But what if there's the kind of rain Sarah Moss describes in her new novel, "Summerwater"?

SARAH MOSS: (Reading) You have to expect rain here, but not usually like this. Raining stair rods, his dad would have said. There'll be flooding down the road at this rate. It's not Scottish rain, more tropical, not that she's ever been or wanted to go anywhere tropical - insects and parasites, gastroenteritis. Melissa (ph) back from that trip exactly as he predicted - sunburnt and underweight and running a mysterious fever. It'll surely ease off later, the weather. It was always the saving grace of being here when the children were young. The one thing you knew about the weather was that it wouldn't last.

SIMON: Ah, but what if it does? "Summerwater" is the latest novel from Sarah Moss, author of the celebrated "Ghost Wall" and six other novels. She joins us now from Dublin. Thanks so much for being with us.

MOSS: It's a pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: So here these families are in this kind of resort area. The Wi-Fi is also spotty. So everybody's left to their own devices without even being able to use their devices, aren't they?

MOSS: That's partly what they've gone for. They think it's a good idea.

SIMON: Tell us about some of these people locked away in their cabins in the midst of this ceaseless rain because it's kind of a - almost a panoply of modern Britain, isn't it?

MOSS: Almost. Though in some ways, they're surprisingly similar. One of the teenagers observes that there are a bunch of middle-class white families who've gone there to be less comfortable than they are in their daily lives, which is a bit of a teenage overstatement but not entirely.

SIMON: There are families from other backgrounds there.

MOSS: There are. Yes. Yes. But they're all stuck in this place in heavy rain with nowhere to go and really not very much to do.

SIMON: There's a teenager who is so desperate to get away from his parents he wants to kayak in the middle of a rainy lake.

MOSS: Yes.

SIMON: And you become genuinely worried about him because he says things that make you worry about him doing something reckless.

MOSS: Yes. Teenagers do, don't they? I mean, that's what's frightening about teenagers, that they're old enough to go off on their own but not always old enough to estimate the risk very reliably.

SIMON: Yeah. You really worked at capturing the dialogue of teenagers, didn't you? You have a special note about that.

MOSS: Well, it was partly getting the Scottishness right. That was very important to me. I was born in Scotland and spent some time there. But I didn't spend my own teenage years there. And I have teenagers myself, but, of course, we're in Ireland, not Scotland. So it was really important that I got that dialogue exactly right. Luckily, I have lots of Scottish friends.

SIMON: Well, what did you learn about about teenage language?

MOSS: I don't think it changes much. I mean, of course, whatever's fashionable is only fashionable until your parents caught on. And then you have to move on. So that was the bit I had to get right. But I think that sense of disaffection and superiority and desperation doesn't change much from one generation to another.

SIMON: (Laughter).

MOSS: My own kids are teenagers at the moment. I'm enjoying it very much.

SIMON: Yeah. Me, too, as a matter of fact. What does it do to have all these people have to turn on their own insides, do you think?

MOSS: Well, that's what I was really interested in. What happens if you remove all of the usual support structures and also all of the usual distractions? I often think when people say they want to spend more time with their families that if they did spend more time with their families, they might not want to spend more time with their families. I mean, it's often a nicer idea than reality.

SIMON: Yeah.

MOSS: And I think holidays really focus those tensions as well as the pleasures of family life. So they're always interesting to write about.

SIMON: And politics - Brexit, which is now an accomplished fact, seems to announce itself every few pages.

MOSS: Yes. I wasn't thinking only about Brexit. I mean, it would be lovely if populism and nationalism were just a British problem. But as we have seen recently in some other places, they're not. I think Brexit is the local manifestation of a much more widespread tension. So in this book, Brexit is the example. But I think it has a broader reach about who's allowed to go where and who's allowed to be where and what are we willing to tolerate, what would we walk past, what makes us intervene - all of those questions.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you hope that readers will be more inclined to recognize how being closed in affects human feeling after this year of the pandemic? Or I must say, as you know, a commercial novelist, a respected novelist, do you worry the last thing people will want to read in a pandemic...


SIMON: ...Is a story about people being closed in?

MOSS: Well, of course, I wrote it long before the pandemic. It was published in England last summer, just as lockdown was really biting. I hope we'll all be rushing out of our houses and into each other's arms and going to all the parties and concerts and events that we can possibly get our hands on. But I don't see how we cannot also be thinking about what it means to be isolated and who we really want to spend our time with and whether domesticity is desirable or stifling or both, and what it means to live with something that might be both desirable and stifling.

SIMON: Well, that's life I guess.

MOSS: Isn't it?

SIMON: "Summerwater" is the new novel from Sarah Moss. Thank you so much for being with us.

MOSS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TEEN DAZE'S "OAKMOSS AND AMBER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.