IT WAS a matter of time until the first novels set during the still current Covid-19 pandemic would start to appear in print. A time during which so much that seemed impossible to imagine only two years ago will for ever leave its mark on our memory, and fiction can be a way to engage with some of those memories that seem far away already and yet also too close for a perspective that allows these to be truly in the past.
The Fell is an example of such fiction, and perhaps it will be easier to appreciate what Sarah Moss, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at University College, Dublin, is attempting to do here. The setting is the Peak District, the time November 2020, and the story a relatively plain one: Kate finds herself in a two-week isolation period, and can bear her confinement no longer; so, she sneaks out for a quick unobserved walk. She slips on the moor, which she otherwise knows so well, and is unable to move.
The story moves between the search-and-rescue operation, which begins when one of her neighbours notices that she has gone missing, and Kate herself. In between, we catch glimpses of pandemic life, quarantine, distance and closeness, and the threat of a hefty fine for breaking quarantine. The ending is hopeful. Kate is eventually found, thanks to the kindness and generosity of others, and, on waking up, decides: “Life, then, to be lived, somehow.”
The Fell is very much a novel of our time: it is written quickly, which shows in overlong paragraphs and sentences that stretch over ten lines, but it also takes note of the moment, and captures what seemed unimaginable even a year before it was set. But it also offers hope: neighbours will still look out for each other; and there may be a time when what is described here is, indeed, in the past, and a novel like The Fell will help us to remember.
Dr Natalie K. Watson is a theologian, editor, and writer based in Peterborough.
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