Saturday 16 September 2017

Review by Lee Wright of "Death and the Seaside" by Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s novels feature no demons or monsters. Yet behind every closed door she makes you hear unsettling noises. Those noises are made by people. And hell is other people.    

A closeness to the real, day-to-day, small desperate lives filled with nothing moments. Characters who take unfulfilled, uncomfortable breaths. Her first two novels, The Lighthouse and He Wants, are close to the Southern Gothic tune of Carson McCullers. Like the girl from Georgia, Moore takes alienated individuals, and plunges them into unnatural societies, where they are experimented on by the shadier side of humanity. 

Her main protagonist in The Lighthouse, Futh, bares resemblance to McCullers’ deaf-mute, John Singer in McCullers’ stand out work of fiction, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Both men are isolated from within and longing for something they cannot get back. Both await lonely ends. Moore has made sure that the quarrelling tick has bitten and embedded itself in each character she invents. 

For her most recently published novel, Death and the Seaside, we discover the story of the milk skinned, failed writer that is Bonnie Falls (with Moore, there is always something in a name). Hers is a life left unfinished in every sense. Abandoned degree, missed chances, and underwhelming, overbearing parents. A would-be writer whose time is taken up by a disparaging cleaning job at a pharmaceutical building. Until the day she becomes involved with her scrutinising landlady, Sylvia Slythe. Then, Bonnie’s timid existence begins to collapse like a sandcastle beneath the tide. 

All of Moore’s novels are short and they linger like a vivid nightmare. At times, Death and the Seaside can appear like an interrogation of other novels (Irving’s The World According to Garp, Camus’ The Outsider, and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea among others are given a direct mention). 

And the ocean, or at least the appeal of it, is a recurring theme throughout Moore’s work (John Irving has his bears). In The Lighthouse, Futh crosses it. Lewis Sullivan in He Wants longs for it. And Bonnie Falls visits it.   

By the time Bonnie drives away from the encroaching sea, we are left with the slow burning pay off, questions are answered and our protagonist’s future far from certain.

In a time when most novels rely on formula, and great authors such as John Fowles, Raymond Carver and Carson McCullers are rarely talked about (outside of the wider read), Alison Moore, like DBC Pierre (Breakfast with the Borgias), represents a breed of writer who succeeds in painting a portrait of the inept and naïve side of human nature. Do not get too close to this kind of author, for they leave permanent scars. 

And long may they reign.  

About the reviewer 
Lee Wright was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in 1980 and has been writing both fiction and non-fiction since 2008. He is taking an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in 2017.

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