I’ve been a fan of Alison Moore’s work since I first read The Lighthouse back in 2012, admiring her sparse, taut prose that’s atmospheric and powerful. When I found out that Moore’s new book Death and the Seaside had been published, I ordered it immediately, eager to read more of her work.
Death and the Seaside tells the story of Bonnie Falls, an almost-thirty year old amateur writer with an abandoned literature degree. At her parent’s insistence, she moves out of the family home into a nearby flat. It’s not the most welcoming of places: there are boxes full of the previous occupant’s belongings in the living room, she places ‘her knickknacks around the lounge, though they looked a bit lost in that long, dim room’ (p16) and there’s a locked door that leads to elsewhere in the house where her landlady, Sylvia Blythe, lives. One day, Sylvia pops by to meet her new tenant and, discovering that Bonnie is a writer, begins to take an interest in her and her stories. Bonnie welcomes this new-found attention and with Sylvia’s growing interest, a friendship develops. Sylvia remarks how Bonnie’s stories often draw on her life and encourages her to finish one she is writing about a woman who moves to a seaside town and comes under strange and mysterious influences. Unable to work out how it should end, Sylvia suggests that she and Bonnie take a holiday together – to the seaside. Reality and fiction begin to merge in this tense, atmospheric story about suggestibility, semiotics and storytelling.
Alison Moore is an expert at creating atmosphere. Death and the Seaside has an unsettling, almost dream-like undertone, one that gives you a feeling of not quite knowing who to trust and what is real and what is not. Moore’s economical writing creates a subtle tension and uncertainty that not only keeps you hooked on reading but completely draws you into the story. When I finished the novel, I almost felt as if I’d been put under a spell.
The novel is deceptively simple; there are quite a few threads to this story and Moore skilfully pulls the strands, bringing them together in a way that works brilliantly. As the novel progresses, the threads tighten and draw together before the story comes to its understated, but dramatic, conclusion.
Moore’s previous two novels have had male protagonists so it was interesting to read one which focusses on two women. Bonnie is a particularly well-crafted character in that she is perfectly suited to this story. In a lot of ways, I feel sorry for her. She lives this empty kind of life and it feels that she doesn’t have an active role in it: she’s made to move out by her parents, she works two jobs that she does simply to pay her rent, there’s no mention of any friends, she writes stories but never finishes them. Sylvia is quite the opposite. Her interest in Bonnie slips from polite courtesy to something a little ominous, but Moore does this so seamlessly and subtly that I begin to question whether I’m simply reading too much into it.
I love this book. Suggestibility and semiotics, creative writing and storytelling combine to form an understated but multi-layered novel that leaves a lasting impression. Moore makes writing a compelling, atmospheric novel look easy and I can’t wait to read anything she writes next.
Have you read Death and the Seaside? What did you think?