This short novel by Sarah Moss is set in a park in Scotland where people can rent cabins or camp. It’s sort of shabby and run down, but people continue to come, sometimes year after year, to get away from their lives in Glasgow, Manchester … whereever. Except, as the novel shows, you can’t ever totally get away from yourself or other people.
There’s not much of a plot here. The book moves from character to character, showing a single day in the life of the park. So it starts with a woman going on a morning run, moves to a man whose trying to adapt old age with his wife, then to a young woman who’s maybe a little bored with her boyfriend’s efforts to achieve simultaneous orgasms, then to a girl playing on a rope swing. Slices of life. Sometimes you’ll see characters from one chapter popping up in another. And in between are little descriptions of the natural world where all of these people are coming together.
One of the things I loved about this book was the way it balanced each person’s solitude with the fact that they lived in community. Each person lives in their own head, having thoughts the people around them cannot and do not fully absorb. (Images of Don Draper during sex, to name an obvious example.) But they also exist together. They watch each other from a distance, and the sometimes bump up awkwardly against each other. Everyone is affected by everyone else, even if only in a small way.
Perhaps the biggest point of connection involves the Ukrainian family who host loud parties during the evening, annoying many of their fellow campers. In general, these “outsiders” are viewed with suspicion by the rest of the community, even if that suspicion is largely unspoken. Still, the attitudes of the adults trickle down to the kids, with some sort of curious and others downright mean.
The book is also suffused with a sense of dark foreboding. Many of the chapters show characters in danger, sometimes without being aware of it. Lots of people observe that the solitary runner is putting herself at risk. Paddling on the loch becomes perilous during a cold rain. Multiple near misses on this single day show how much on the edge of disaster we are, even if we don’t know it. The little nature vignettes show a world of life and death. And there are hints along the way that some sort of tragedy will happen before the day is over.