I was excited to hear about Alison Moore’s latest novel, Death and the Seaside having enjoyed her previous novels – Man Booker Prize nominated The Lighthouse published in 2012 and He Wants published in 2014. One of the things I like about Alison’s writing is that she is adept at creating tension and an unsettling atmosphere, and in Death and the Seaside, that is no different.
‘She turned again to the piece of paper, and she almost thought that she might be able to make out a message after all, or just a word, but even as she looked, her sense of that dim outline disappeared, like a shadow when the sun slips behind a cloud.’
The novel begins with a story within a story, as Susan moves to Seatown and acquires a job and a room in a pub. Susan is a character in an unfinished story by our protagonist, Bonnie Falls, an amateur writer. I really felt for Bonnie, a woman for whom life hasn’t quite gone to plan. Approaching her thirtieth birthday, Bonnie moves out of her parents’ home and into a nearby flat. Here she struggles to find her place, taking up different cleaning jobs whilst coming under constant criticism from her parents who consistently pick at her for her career prospects and abilities. With her critical family and very few friends, Bonnie seems to be a lonely character, adrift from the rest of the world. As a result, when her landlady Sylvia Slythe takes an interest in her, she is reluctant to push her away.
“You’re afraid of your own story. But you don’t need to worry about what happens at the end. All you need to know is: What happens next?”
As is typical of Alison Moore’s novels, there is a sense of unease throughout and you are never quite sure who can be trusted or what may happen. Bonnie becomes influenced by Sylvia who encourages her to finish one of her stories, a story which is inspired by distant memories of Bonnie’s childhood. But there are many questions surrounding Sylvia – why is she so interested in Bonnie? What does she know about her? I was gripped by their story, keen to find out more about these two women and why they had formed such a bond. I thought that Moore perfectly captured Bonnie’s vulnerability and her struggle to meet her parents’ expectations – the negative side of family life. The portrayal of Sylvia was also effective with the mystery surrounding her and what her intentions are.
“When you’re up high, said Bonnie, ‘don’t you ever feel an urge to jump? Don’t you ever feel that you might not be able to stop yourself?
I really enjoyed Death and the Seaside. At around 170 pages it is not a lengthy read but Alison Moore has managed to include a lot of psychological depth in a relatively short novel. It is gripping tale of two women, of stories, memories and suggestibility.