63. ‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss

I read Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss earlier this year, and then a few months later The Tidal Zone started doing the rounds on BookTube, with many fantastic vloggers simply raving about it.

I was lucky enough to get The Tidal Zone for my birthday, and I have to say that the book itself is just a beautiful object. It has one of those lovely rubbery covers (by the way, that picture on the front is a painting, not a photograph!) and the pages are thick and delightfully … crunchy, like there are slightly too many of them for the binding. Oh yeh, and it’s pretty good inside too.

the tidal zone sarah moss family saga tragedy hospital

Adam is a stay-at-home dad whose wife, Emma, works crazy hours as a GP, meaning the responsibilities for looking after their two children – Miriam and Rose – often fall to him. At the beginning of the story, the eldest girl, Miriam, is rushed to hospital after her heart stops suddenly at school. She is monitored and tested but the doctors cannot pinpoint exactly what caused her arrest, and so the family must learn to move on, knowing that it could happen again at any time.

The book is composed of three different threads: there’s the present-day story of Miriam’s recovery, a history of Coventry cathedral (based on a book Adam is writing), and the story of Adam’s hippy-commune-dwelling dad and his own childhood years. The most powerful parts are, of course, those dedicated to the present-day story – infused as it is with the constant, knife-edge fear of a parent who might outlive their child – but the other threads contribute to the overarching political and philosophical themes of the book.

Moss does so many things right in Tidal Zone it’s hard to know where to begin. The character of Miriam is modern and opinionated and righteous and rebellious; she has some glorious rants about poverty and capitalism and gender, and she just comes across as so incredibly alive in the midst of a book that is about her near death. Adam’s narrative voice is impeccable; he too is filled with a certain rage and confusion about his position in the world, and there are so many things that he thinks but leaves unsaid that you can really feel you are getting an insight into a profoundly complex character.

The pacing of the book is excellent, and as I got closer to the end I couldn’t put it down because I had to know what sort of closure Moss was going to give these characters. Ultimately, this is a story about stories. It is about the stories we tell ourselves that get us through the hard times, and the ones we tell ourselves about who we are, what is normal and what is not. Many of the chapters have a ‘once upon a time’, fairytale-like atmosphere, and we see plenty of instances in which characters pass on their stories to other people, especially to the younger generation. (Perhaps that’s part of the horror of Miriam’s illness: children should continue their parents’ stories, not end before they do.) This novel is both astonishingly rich and accessibly written. It cries and it shouts; it comforts and it seethes. I loved it.

“We are not all, not only, the characters written by our ancestors.”

Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts!

Want to read this? You can buy the book here.

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