Today's Kindle bargain is Night Waking by Sarah Moss, a snip at £0.99 (and a good price in paperback, too). One of my 'books of the year' last year, I referred to it again the other day when flagging up Sarah's new non-fiction work, Names for the Sea, her account of a year spent in Iceland, but if you haven't come across the novel before, here's my piece on it:
Adèle and LizF, by way of comments on earlier posts, were urging me to read Night Waking, and I'm so glad I acted on their recommendation because it's quite superb.
Historian Anna Bennet and her husband Giles Cassingham are spending the summer with their two young sons on an otherwise uninhabited Inner Hebridean island which has been in the Cassingham family for generations. Ecologist Giles is there to monitor the puffin colonies while Anna is trying to get on with writing a book, but the demands of her boys are such that she's struggling. Toddler Moth is funny and endearing, but his constant night waking and need for Anna are intensely wearing, while precocious Raph is worryingly obsessed with disasters and the destruction of the planet, and his endless questions and preoccupations are a cause for concern.
While planting trees in the garden of the Victorian family house, Anna discovers a baby's skeleton. It is not prehistoric, apparently, which raises the question why that burial place was chosen rather than the graveyard by the old village church. With the police involved and suspicions as to concealed pregnancy or births on the wrong side of the blanket, the mystery of the baby's identity and strange resting place is yet no nearer to being solved, and the unsettling find adds to Anna's own disturbingly ambivalent feelings towards motherhood.
Alongside the contemporary story is another narrative in the form of letters from May Moberley, an English girl and trained nurse who, in 1878, was sent to the then populated island by the Cassingham family on account of the high infant mortality rates. Her attempts at gaining the trust of the Gaelic-speaking women, to the point at which she can assist with childbirth and advise on the proper care of the newborn, are ill-judged and unwelcome, and she makes little headway. How May's account of her time on the island becomes relevant to Anna's family life is very neatly and beautifully worked out.
Should you think this is a dark book, or another of those 'harassed mother at the end of her tether' stories, it is neither - and so much more! It's very amusing in a blackly comic fashion, and it's so multi-dimensional, so highly accomplished, that while it does concentrate on a mother torn between career and family, a mother so sleep-deprived she can't think clearly, its true scope is very much wider. Read it and you'll see.