Sarah Moss

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Photograph: University of Warwick

Books

Assistant: Seren Adams

Books

Sarah Moss writes on the history and literature of food and travel. She co-edits, with Nicola Humble, the Food series at Manchester University Press, and has a BA, M.St. and DPhil from Oxford University. COLD EARTH (2009) was her debut novel, was followed by NIGHT WAKING (2011), both published by Granta. NAMES FOR THE SEA: STRANGERS IN ICELAND , which deals with her experience of spending a year in Iceland just after the country's economic collapse and during the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, was published by Granta in 2012 and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's 2013 Ondaatje Prize. BODIES OF LIGHT, a novel, was published by Granta in 2014 and was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2015. SIGNS FOR LOST CHILDREN, a continuation of the story of BODIES OF LIGHT, was published by Granta in July 2015 and was shortlisted for The Wellcome Book Prize 2016. Her latest novel, THE TIDAL ZONE, was published by Granta in July 2016 and was shortlisted for The Wellcome Book Prize 2017. 

Her new novel, GHOST WALL, will be published by Granta in October 2018.

Praise for GHOST WALL (2018):

'I love this book. Ghost Wall requires you to put your life on hold while you finish it. It draws you into its unusual world and, with quiet power and menace, keeps you there until the very last page. Silvie's story isn't one you will ever forget.' Maggie O’Farrell

'I have never read a novel this slender that holds inside it quite so much. Wild, calm, dark yet hopeful, a girl with a smart mouth narrates her own difficult history as well as that of Britain. A portrait of male behaviour, subtle class warfare and the solidarity of women, part thriller, part adolescent awakening, part wry elegy to the natural world, it asks what we might sacrifice in public to salve a private wound. This book ratcheted the breath out of me so skilfully, that as soon as I'd finished, the only thing I wanted was to read it again.' Jessie Burton 

Praise for THE TIDAL ZONE (2016):

‘Proving she’s at the top of her game, Moss has written a new kind of state-of-the-nation novel, one that addresses big themes – mortality, parental love, 21st-century gender politics, even the NHS – all explored through the prism of one ordinary family, and within a narrative that’s not so much about events, but rather the void where action and answers should be. Without doubt, she’s one of the best British novelists writing today, and The Tidal Zone, which reads like the electric shock of a defibrillator, or the jolt of an EpiPen of adrenaline, confirms this.’ Lucy Scholes, Independent 

'[Moss] serves up a very recognisable, and at times very funny, slice of life... Adam’s father’s unconventional backstory provides intrigue, and the history of Coventry Cathedral’s rebuilding, told in parallel, lends momentum. Raised from the ruins, its reconstruction also echoes Adam’s efforts to create a new normality for his family, one that acknowledges, but is not dominated by, the possibility of sudden death. But it is Moss’s observations of life on the NHS front line – the sick buildings and goodness-free food; the underpaid, underappreciated and exhausted staff – that perhaps go deepest... With this expertly crafted examination of the shocks to which flesh is heir, and the institution that we expect to heal us, she deserves to come to the attention of many more judging panels – and readers' Observer 

'Moss [is] a writer of consistently clever works. She's one of Britain's most underrated writers... [The Tidal Zone] is another work full of the clever observations that made her earlier works so successful... There is no shortage of books that put a marriage under the microscope but none does it quite as Moss does... One of the things [she] does so well in her novels is to play with your expectations. Here, she shakes up the traditional mother-father roles... The Tidal Zone is about the stories we tell ourselves, whether about the roles we play in a family or about the impact ill health can have on how we see the past, present and future' Sunday Times

'Moss is superb on the eerie calm of the children’s ward... the novel’s clever poison goes to work, spreading and diffusing that localized parental anxiety until it pervades all aspects of the family’s life. How can you live, asks Moss, when life can be stopped at any moment, for no reason? Moreover, as a right-thinking citizen of a wealthy developed country in modern times, how can you claim exceptionalism for the hand life has dealt you? [...] There is succour, after all, in naming our fears, and Moss, you feel, sees clearly where we are just now' TLS

‘In her four novels to date Moss has proved herself to be a versatile writer… [The Tidal Zone] is different again, a contemporary story about a family whose ordinary lives are tipped into freefall when eldest daughter Miriam collapses one day at school. Granta is tipping this as her breakout novel and I do hope so – she deserves to be much better known’ Editor’s Choice, Bookseller

'[A] powerful account of private fears in the face of public expectations and modern parenthood confronting gender politics... Animated by wry intelligence yet comparable to a Dutch painting of a domestic interior in its evocation of turmoil beneath stillness, Sarah Moss's fifth novel reprises her exploration of mortal and moral paradoxes. Although bristling iwth contemporary teenage attitude, this coming-of-age story is about grown-ups, for grown-ups' Country Life

'Affecting... the immensely talented Sarah Moss' The Tidal Zone opens with a chapter tracking the journey from a foetus to 15-year-old teenager, collapsed, not breathing, in the school playground (in just seven pages - take note Terrence Malick)... [It] turns out Moss can maintain that seismic scale and depth throughout... [she] writes soulful, ambitious prose, which takes note of the familiar and mundane but mostly dwells on a bigger, deeper picture. The nature of familial love, the grip of fear imposed by a seriously ill child, the guilt of yearning for escape; all are examined with intelligence and emotional charge. And don't be tempted to gloss over the chapters about church architecture... Rather like Spence's minimal modernism, they demonstrate perfectly that there is beauty in what looks at first like a cold, unyielding facade' Big Issue  

Praise for SIGNS FOR LOST CHILDREN (2015):

'Moss vividly brings to life [her characters'] contrasting experiences in this nuanced study of lives constricted or liberated by circumstance' Best Books of 2015, Financial Times 

'Astute... the richness of Moss's work is astonishing. Few writers demonstrate such quietly magisterial command of the rocky territories of both the heart and the mind' Lucy Scholes, Independent 

'Compelling... A quietly devastating portrait of crumbling identities, alienation and the role of women in the 1800s... It seems to me, with this book, that it's no longer sufficient to call what Moss is doing "novel-writing"... [it is] an ongoing interrogation of the role of women within the family, and in the wider world, and it's a broader, knottier enterprise than the word "novel" allows. A project, perhaps you could call it, of the lifelong variety. An undertaking' Guardian

'Moss is one of our most underrated writers... [Signs For Lost Children is] full of humanity, historical insight and beautiful writing' The Times

'[Moss's] ability to capture her female characters' intertwined emotional and intellectual lives, from their ambivalence about motherhood to their thoughts on innocence and madness, is a rare skill' TLS

'[A] rich and intricate novel' Sunday Times

‘[A] wonderful, subtle novel… Moss charts Tom and Ally’s changing perspectives with precise, poetic language’ Sunday Express

Praise for BODIES OF LIGHT (2014): 

'A powerful polemic... The writing is concise and powerful; colour coming from Moss's language. The story ends with you wanting more' Independent on Sunday

'Thought-provoking and illuminating... this meticulously researched novel offers an intriguing portrait of Victorian society' Daily Mail

'A poignant, well-written tale of a woman's attempts to escape the powerful chains of family' Sunday Times

'Wise and tender... Moss's style is measured and refined. A very accomplished piece of work' Financial Times

Praise for NAMES FOR THE SEA - Strangers in Iceland (2012):

'Names For The Sea: Strangers In Iceland is a beautifully written and acutely observed examination of being an útlendingur - a foreigner. A stranger in a strange land, Moss grapples with new foods, customs and landscapes that are both oddly familiar and wildly alien in this absorbing memoir' Financial Times

Praise for NIGHT WAKING (2011):

'Night Waking is a brilliantly observed comedy of 21st-century manners. It's also a tightly plotted mystery that keeps the reader wondering, and hoping, until the final page' Financial Times

'[Moss] continues to thread historical research into her fiction in a way that is fresh and illuminating' Guardian

Praise for COLD EARTH (2009):

'One of the most powerful and gripping debut novels I have ever read' Scarlett Thomas

'Every element of the novel is distilled for purity of purpose' The Times

'Moss is such a master at evoking the suspense of both the dread and the anticipation of this situation that readers will be tempted to turn to the end of the book to relieve anxieties. Try to control yourself, if only for the sake of appreciating her technique' Guardian

Fiction

Publication DetailsNotes
2016

Granta

Adam is a stay-at-home dad who is also working on a history of the bombing and rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. He is a good man and he is happy. But one day, he receives a call from his daughter's school to inform him that, for no apparent reason, fifteen-year-old Miriam has collapsed and stopped breathing. In that moment, he is plunged into a world of waiting, agonising, not knowing. The story of his life and the lives of his family are rewritten and re-told around this shocking central event, around a body that has inexplicably failed. In this exceptionally courageous and unflinching novel of contemporary life Sarah Moss goes where most of us wouldn't dare to look, and the result is riveting - unbearably sad, but also miraculously funny and ultimately hopeful. The Tidal Zone explores parental love, overwhelming fear, illness and recovery. It is about clever teenagers and the challenges of marriage. It is about the NHS, academia, sex and gender in the twenty-first century, the work-life juggle, and the politics of packing lunches and loading dishwashers. It confirms Sarah Moss as a unique voice in modern fiction and a writer of luminous intelligence.

2015

Granta

Only weeks into their marriage a young couple embark on a six-month period of separation. Tom Cavendish goes to Japan to build lighthouses and his wife Ally, Doctor Moberley-Cavendish, stays and works at the Truro asylum. As Ally plunges into the institutional politics of mental health, Tom navigates the social and professional nuances of late 19th century Japan. With her unique blend of emotional insight and intellectual profundity, Sarah Moss builds a novel in two parts from Falmouth to Tokyo, two maps of absence; from Manchester to Kyoto, two distinct but conjoined portraits of loneliness and determination. An exquisite continuation of the story of Bodies of Light, Signs for Lost Children will amaze Sarah Moss's many fans.

2014

Granta

Bodies of Light is a deeply poignant tale of a psychologically tumultuous nineteenth century upbringing set in the atmospheric world of Pre-Raphaelitism and the early suffrage movement. Ally (older sister of May in Night Waking), is intelligent, studious and engaged in an eternal - and losing - battle to gain her mother's approval and affection. Her mother, Elizabeth, is a religious zealot, keener on feeding the poor and saving prostitutes than on embracing the challenges of motherhood. Even when Ally wins a scholarship and is accepted as one of the first female students to read medicine in London, it still doesn't seem good enough. The first in a two-book sequence, Bodies of Light will propel Sarah Moss into the upper echelons of British novelists. It is a triumphant piece of historical fiction and a profoundly moving master class in characterisation.

2011

Granta

Anna and her husband Giles have decided to decamp with their two boys, Raphael and Moth, to Colsay, a deserted island south of the inner Hebrides that belongs to Giles’s family. They want to ‘get away from it all’ and fix one of the cottages so they can rent it out to like-minded tourists. Anna, who is an academic, also wants to finish her book, while Giles, an ornithologist, is busy observing puffins. The idyll is rather rudely disrupted by the children’s sleeping patterns and the discovery of a small dead body buried in the garden. A glorious exploration of modern motherhood, acerbic, funny and deeply thought-provoking.

2009

Granta Books

Facing a Greenland winter for which they are hopelessly ill-equipped, knowing that their missives may never reach their loved ones, six archaeologists write their final letters home. In this exceptional and haunting first novel, Moss weaves a rich tapestry of personal narratives, history, ghost stories, love stories, stories of grief and naked survival.

Non-Fiction

Publication DetailsNotes
2012

Granta

In 2009, feeling bored of her middle class life with two children and a respectable job in a small English town, Sarah applied for and got a job at the university of Reykyavik. It turned out to be a tumultuous time for Iceland: the day she accepted, the Icelandic economy crashed and her future salary went through the floor. Halfway through her stay, Eyjafjallajokull erupted.

Most of the travel books about Iceland are written by men discovering their inner Viking. Sarah, instead, lived and worked in Reykyavik fo a year. She provides an enchanting memoir of her day to day existince as a stranger in a strange land.

2009

Reaktion

Redolent of everything sensual and hedonistic, chocolate is adored around the world, and has been since the Spanish first encountered cocoa beans in South America in the sixteenth century. This short book sheds an historicised and engaging light on this universal obsession. With Alexander Badenoch.

2009

BlueBridge

This ambitious book is primarily a literary historical examination of the myth and reality of Antarctica and the Arctic from the point of view of European settlers and explorers, including the history of Norse settlements in Greenland; the expeditions of Parry, Nansen, Franklin and others; and Arctic myth and imagery in literature from the likes of Donne, Mary Shelley and Lewis Carroll.

2006

Signal Books

A thorough and thought-provoking examination of the most influential, popular and intriguing journeys into the eternal ice.