Title: The Tidal Zone
Author: Sarah Moss
Genre: Fiction, literary fiction, contemporary
Where I got the book: I won this book through a giveaway hosted on Instagram and am reviewing this on my own initiative.
My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary: Stay-at-home parent Adam and working full-time doctor Emma live in Coventry with their two daughters. One day Adam receives a call from school concerning Miriam, his eldest daughter. For no apparent reason, 15-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. The family is thrown into the terrible situation of waiting and not knowing, and as they struggle to come to terms with what’s happened, they try to reclaim a sense of normalcy.
“It is simply not possible to live in a state of acute fear and shock for more than a couple of weeks, and so the mind finds a path, a story, a way onwards. Shock is by definition transient, even when the shocking thing is here to stay.”
– The Tidal Zone, Sarah Moss
I’d already had this book on my TBR for a while when I was so lucky to win a copy in a giveaway. I’d heard many great things about it beforehand and it didn’t disappoint.
The writing in “The Tidal Zone” is beautiful, but to be honest it threw me off a bit to begin with. Long and winding sentences are often strung together and the dialogue is sometimes just written into these long passages without much indication of it being a dialogue. Personally I do love this kind of writing, but at the same time there’s such a thin line between beautiful flow and a tedious read when it comes to this style. This book was wobbling along that line for a while but it adjusted after a while (or I just got used to it) and I started appreciating it for how poetic it is. Moss certainly has a lyrical flair for describing the world, especially the little, every day things, and some of her descriptions are painfully accurate. As a whole, the writing fits the theme of the book. It’s somber but hopeful, and honest, beautiful, and funny all at the same time.
The book’s main themes are loss, parental love, uncertainty, illness, and the long way to physical and mental recovery. It also deals with the national health service in an expert but highly personal way that I’m sure many recognize and can relate to. It explores being a person caught in the health system, and also describes suddenly having to cope with something you never imagined would ever happen to you. Things are flipped entirely on its head in a matter of seconds and the frustration, the fear, the agonizing wait, and just being in a situation where the information you seek remains vague – all of this was written with both sympathy and brutal honesty and was my favorite aspect of the novel.
In a book that is only loosely plot-driven, the characterizations are for the most part strong and convincing. The story revolves around the tiny universe that is the family of four and doesn’t stray too much beyond this. Adam is the narrator throughout almost the entire book and he balances beautifully between his love for his daughters and his silent anxiety over what might happen to them, as well as his role as a stay-at-home parent in a modern society. Emma works full-time, often more than that, and (maybe as a result) her character doesn’t seem to be as present as the rest. Miriam, the eldest daughter, is intelligent, opinionated, and sharp-tongued but comes off as maybe a bit too well-read at times. On the other hand, eight-year-old Rose speaks with delightful conviction. Together they make up a strong group of characters and they all contribute to and maintain the story.
Two smaller sub-plots are also woven into the main plot: the story of Adam’s father Eli and his travels through 1960s America, and Adam’s written part-time work about the restoration of Coventry Cathedral. Eli’s tale personally didn’t do much for me. I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to add to the story and thus its place unfortunately remained a bit unclear to me. However, I really enjoyed the parts describing the restoration of the cathedral. The process of replacing old ruins with something new and modern worked as a beautiful metaphor for the main storyline.
It’s not without its flaws, but overall this is a beautiful book that explores an issue that is highly relatable for many, and it does so with sympathy. A small but big novel about family, loss, fear, and moving forward, played out in the most ordinary of settings.