Monday, December 19, 2016

The Tidal Zone, by Sarah Moss

Hi Dear Folk,

A review of The Tidal Zone, by Sarah Moss.  This is the second fictional work I have read of Sarah Moss and on thinking that I realized that I never wrote a review on the first fictional book I read which was Night Waking.

As a child I always thought actors were so talented and it's only as I'm older that I realize there are very few good actors, true character actors, most of them have the same style in every movie, and are just slotted into the correct character by the casting director.  In other words you see a pattern, and this is true of Sarah Moss, with reading her second fictional work.

You have the main story, where she excels in the minutia of everyday life and what one thinks.  The second is usually an academic working on some theses, in The Tidal Zone it is the stay at home dad Adam Goldschmidt, working on a history of the new Coventry Cathedral.  Thirdly there is a story of family history, his dad Eli who's parents emigrated to Brooklyn, America, coming out of the holocaust of Europe and his coming of age in the hippies sixties, meeting a British girl and settling in coastal Cornwall.

The family is Emma the wife a full time doctor, in the NHS, working very hard and putting in long hours, unable to un-connect even when at home.  The story told by Adam the stay at home dad, cleaning, cooking, shopping and taking care of any hundreds of things one does with house and family to keep it running with some part time hourly work at a local college.  Miriam (Mimi) their eldest fifteen year old, into gloom and doom, how awful the world is, not to say she's not right, and somewhat mouthy, and Rose the younger daughter, still in those early years and desperately wanting a cat.

Mimi is found passed out on the playing field at school, fortunately a teacher resuscitates her and the paramedics and ambulance are called in and she is rushed off to hospital.  Basically the thread of the story is based on this, is it an allergic reaction, is it genetic, is there even a defining answer?  And would it happen again?

It was important to tell people.  To let people know that this can happen:  your child's body can stop.  Stop breathing, stop beating.  At any time, her lungs can close down, the wingbeat that began in her heart before her bones were formed, before the fetus-to-be-Miriam had a spinal cord or a skull, can pause and fall tumbling.

What is it like to go to the hospital day after day, take the train, take the car, even to find parking, run the house, work and carry on with life, or put life on hold?

Take the train, the friendly Welsh nurse had said to Emma.  It's cheaper than parking and probably quicker from where you live anyway, and frankly, Mum, you don't really look as if you ought to be driving.  That's a shame, I didn't say, considering that she's planning to go into work and practice medicine the day after tomorrow, but the next day I took the train so that Emma wouldn't have to drive home.

And I will quote this as all my experience has been with very cold trains.

... for the sour smell of the overheated red trains and the flashing of mountains and coast in the windows, the growing space between me and the High Dependency Unit.

Mimi's reaction on receiving a pile of books from Uncle Giles, a naturalist and writer.

"No, Dad that's monstrously egotistical.  Oh, sorry you nearly died, you'd better read my book.  My monstrously egotistical book about how when I go for a walk it's a profound moral and spiritual experience that makes me a better person than you, but when you go to the same place you're just a tourist messing things up.  I read the extract in the Guardian ..... how he's weighed down by sorrow for my generation, only not like normal adults are because we're being badly educated for jobs that don't exist in an economy that condemns us to poverty and homelessness at levels not seen since before the First World War but because we can't tell the difference between the lesser marshwort ...."

Adams research on Coventry, I found this very interesting, as I like history and know quite a bit about the two great wars of the last century, but I had never heard of this name for the navigational system the Nazi's used.

The Nazi's had a navigational system that I found oddly fascinating, the knieckebein.  Knieckebein means "bent leg", but is also the name of a magic raven and fairy-tale guide, which seems a more likely origin.  It was a navigational technology for night bombing, involving the broadcast of interlocking radio beams over England from antennae on the other side to the Channel.  Pilots could fly along a radio beam ...

Obviously the British after finding out about this tried to jam their signals but human error in transmitting of information, just as at Pearl Harbor, came into play.

He had guessed right, but a tone-deaf operator made a mistake and the Nazi pilots were able to hear the British signal clearly and distinctly from the magic raven, ...

Thus the night bombing destruction of Coventry and Coventry Cathedral.

How one is set apart by life changing events and how one is viewed?

Mostly, the parents in the playground had stopped speaking to me.  I do not know, even now, that I would know what to say to a father whose daughter was being indefinitely detained in hospital.  Word had spread; we had become a tragic family, one to whom terrible things happen.

Basil Spence the architect for the new Coventry Cathedral.

He had won, but he was an architect; he knew that no-one possesses a building, especially one that has not been built.  He had to present his design to the Royal Fine Art Commission, where he had enemies as well as friends ... He spoke there for two hours, of sacrifice and resurrection, and the next day they told him to proceed. ... they allowed him to approach his chosen engineer, Ove Arup, and his chosen weaver, Graham Sutherland.

Adam speaking of his father who had come to stay while Mimi was in hospital.

Come visit, my father said, OK?  Come and see me.  You need to see the sea.  The children need the beach.  Promise me you'll come, at Christmas or in the spring., and he hugged me in his easy, American way, a thing I never quite learnt from him.

Thoughts on higher academia.

I used to believe that friends who'd stayed in academia, Anna Bennett and Tom who's now at Cambridge, exaggerated about their colleagues' behavior, until I attended the first of these meetings.  I understand now why the derangement of senior professors form a significant proportion of my friends' conversation, but for a visitor with little at stake it is all highly entertaining, and makes me feel better about not having a proper job in which such behavior would be normal.

Back to Coventry Cathedral and where should the choir be placed, not obscuring the altar.

The Bishop thought the music was secondary to ecclesiastical ritual and the Expert thought you couldn't have ecclesiastical ritual without music.  In a 1950's episcopal and professional way, they turned red-faced and shouted at each other.

The commercialization of Universities, adding more buildings and building on what was sacred ground, set aside for historical value, nature and visual beauty.

And then fees went up, the government's cap on student numbers was removed and universities, unable for not to compete on price although that day is surely at hand, began to jostle each other for the 'top students', or at least those best trained to complete the formula of A-level exam questions.  More buildings.  More 'facilities'.  I imagine there is some market research behind universities' manifest view that what every bright eighteen-year-old craves is more overpriced coffee brought to them as they sit on more red leather sofas under more sepia images of Paris and New York.

Adam taking Rose to the swimming pool.

Swimming pools, I thought, may be the only place in England where you can look at a person for several minutes without recognizing his or her social class.  I remembered a professor of English in Berlin telling me about an experiment in socio-linguistics which suggested that a Dane needs to speak Danish for four minutes before another Dane can guess his social background, level of education and regional identity.  It is two minutes in France and about five seconds in England, and in fact I don't think we wait five seconds.  I think we know before a word comes out ...

In reference to the NHS National Health Service.

Preferable, Emma would say, to a healthcare system invested in profit from your sickness, ...

The width of the Coventry Cathedral tapestry proved to be problematic in finding the weavers that could weave that size.  In the end they had to go to France.

The Pinton family had a loom large enough for the whole work, five hundred years old, made of the trunks of two trees that were already full grown when the band of brothers fought upon St Crispin's Day.

Eli's tale of travel in the western United States.

He moved on again.  He didn't see why he should work so that others, equally young and strong, could lie in the sun.  Wasn't that why people had left Europe for America in the first place, to escape the parasites?

Thoughts that go through a parents mind about a child who has health problems.

Do you have a sense of impending doom?  Stop it.  Contain the fear in your own head, don't let it seep like fumes through the car. 

Yes, I thought we had inhalers for both girls, Mimi had her epipen, she was wearing her medical ID bracelet ...

The use of three stories though out her writing works very well,

I think the image on the front cover leads you to think that this is a Victorian or Edwardian story, but maybe it does just portray a fifteen year old school girl in her uniform.

It is a very well written story and I know I certainly enjoyed it.


1 comment:

  1. That was a good review. I tend not to read much non-fiction now but it sounds interesting.


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