“Summerwater” is like a series of short stories, each chapter a stream of consciousness for a holidaymaker whiling away yet another wet day at a rundown chalet park on the shores of a Scottish loch. Varying in age from children to pensioners, they are all ordinary, somewhat stereotyped, their thoughts in general banal yet a tad contrived, often mean, unpleasant or devious. The short passages, mostly about nature, which separate the chapters, also seem laboured. There’s a distinct lack of positive humour or joy, perhaps unsurprising, given the weather, the setting and inconsiderate noisy neighbours.
We meet in turn a midde-aged wife and mother who runs miles before breakfast to find fulfilment, a retired doctor who fights against the onset of old age, solicitous towards his wife while despising her for “giving in”, a young woman faking a simultaneous orgasm with her fiancé, being more excited by Don Draper of Mad Men fame and bacon butties. The fact that we are never given the viewpoint of the noisy neighbours, assumed to be Romanian when not Bulgarians or Poles, is a way of increasing the sense of alienation from those who do not “fit in”.
And so the narrative drifts on to the final chapter which ends in the book’s single dramatic event, perhaps most shocking in leaving one insufficiently moved. Is this because we haven’t been given enough scope to engage with any one character, or the climax is too abrupt and disconnected from the previous chapters?
It may have been relief at reaching the end, but the final poetic passage “Drums” and last chapter “Noise in his Body” were for me the best-written part, reminiscent of what impressed me in the writer’s earlier novel, “Ghost Wall”.
“Drums. …Music crosses raindrops, the air full of noises and riddled with movement…The anthill pulses. Damp trees absorb the higher frequencies, swallow the energy into wetness and wood-flesh, so it is the bass that penetrates your head and drums on the drums inside.”
I came to this book with raised expectations, only to be sadly disappointed. What reads like a collection of exercises in creative writing while waiting for inspiration to flare, seems rather bleak and pointless.