Death and the Seaside
Title: Death and the Seaside
Author: Alison Moore
Review by Eleanor Baggley
Alison Moore launched on to the literary scene in 2012 with her Man Booker shortlisted debut, ‘The Lighthouse’. This was followed by ‘The Pre-War House and Other Stories’, a collection of short stories, and ‘He Wants’, all published by Salt. Moore’s latest, ‘Death and the Seaside’, takes familiar imagery and turns it on it’s head to create a fantastically uncanny and unsettling jaunt to the British seaside.
Bonnie Falls is approaching thirty and is stuck. With an abandoned degree behind her, a history of unsatisfying jobs, and a pile of unfinished stories, Bonnie does not seem to have much hope for the future. When her parents decide it’s high time she leaves the family home, she moves into a flat in town owned by the slightly sinister, but oddly compelling, Sylvia Slythe.
Sylvia claims to know Bonnie’s mother, but won’t elaborate, and takes an unusual interest in Bonnie and particularly in her writing. Their friendship, if that is indeed what it is, continues to grow and they end up going away for a summer holiday together to the seaside.
There are three strands to this novel. The first is Bonnie’s reality, as she moves through life, working as a cleaner and adjusting to life outside of her parent’s house. The second is one of Bonnie’s stories, which clearly demonstrates her main preoccupations with the sea, with falling, and with death. The final strand is written from Sylvia’s perspective and acts as the glue that binds the novel, revealing truths and explanations as the novel progresses. These three strands are cleverly interwoven, until their parallels slowly start to merge with devastating results.
Moore’s writing is finely tuned and unrelenting. There is nothing superfluous; every word has been meticulously chosen, right down to the character’s names (the sibilance of Sylvia Slythe couldn’t be more perfect). There is also a satisfying balance to her writing as a whole and particularly in this novel, with the repetition of various images, such as a falling cigarette, adding to the general sense of the uncanny.
There is a palpable sense of impending doom throughout the novel, which becomes increasingly pronounced as the action nears the climactic point. I suspect there are markers and predictors of things to come peppered throughout which, on a reread, may become quite obvious.
The novel is rich both in imagery and in allusions and references. Bonnie’s abandoned dissertation focused on the sea as a metaphor for death and the text is peppered with quotes from classic and contemporary literature where the sea plays a prominent role. Including these references adds texture to an already tensely woven narrative and I found it interesting how it almost acted as evidence for the sinister goings on within the story.
‘Death and the Seaside’ is a tense, tightly plotted and darkly comical novel about writing, creativity, the power of suggestion and the quaint postcard version of the British seaside. Moore’s writing is electric, it sizzles, and is alive with things unsaid. Though it’s not a long novel, it is powerful and it certainly lingers, moving in and out of your mind like the tides.
Review by Eleanor Baggley