Night Waking ended up on my Kindle after it was recently listed in The Guardian's "Fiction Uncovered" selection for "overlooked writers deserving greater recognition".
A couple, Anna and Giles spend time in the remote Hebridean ancestral home of Giles' family, doing up a cottage to rent for tourists, whilst Giles watches puffins for his academic research and Anna, an Oxford Fellow, attempts to write a book on the treatment of children in the 18th Century. This may sound blissful but the couple have also brought with them their demanding young children Raph and Moth. When planting trees in the garden with their boys, the couple discover the skeleton of an infant.
The story which focuses on Anna, is a reflection of the problems of modern motherhood as Anna struggles to manage childcare, housework, her book and a good nights sleep. I believe many female readers will identify with the despair of being woken at 3 am for yet another recitation of The Gruffalo. Whilst Moss shows well how the glossy picture of motherhood and its difficult realities do not match up, mothers experiencing a day to day list of menial, repetitive, tasks; the repetition of these tasks occasionally becomes a little Gruffalo-like for the reader. Giles, the husband, is shown in a nearly entirely negative way, of the careless, clueless aristocratic male who is useless unless bribed with sex to look after his own children. Whilst Anna is clearly a woman on the edge, he is lacking in depth of characterisation. His slight repression, disdain of processed food and lack of household contribution, seeming to be the sum total of his personality.
The second strand of the story which tries to use the past to paint the picture of how the infant came to be in the garden, is interesting, but underdeveloped although it used to good effect in the story's conclusion when the last of its secrets are revealed.
I think too that this is a strikingly middle class book, with strikingly middle class, first world problems. Whether the author seeks to do this in a critical way or whether this is an accidental reflection of her own lifestyle, and she sees no irony, I am unsure. But her characters gripes like lack of internet and mobile coverage, are hard to sympathise with when they are so much more fortunate than most. I think it may appeal to the harassed professional working mother, but perhaps not, if they seek to read for escapism rather than a grim echo of their own toils.
Personally, I felt that the secondary characters, the Fairchild family, whose function really is to serve as interaction for Anna were far more interesting, their problems being more, well, like problems. The difference being that while Anna worries that her kids aren't eating her homemade bread, Judith Fairchild is worrying that her kid, hopelessly depressed at the state of the world, isn't eating at all whilst Judith, increasingly purposeless, is descending into alcoholism.
I do think that Night Waking has its place, and isn't badly written, though it certainly didn't fly along for me. This is the second book in the challenge to use a Hebridean island as location, and I wondered whether 'Hebridean' may just be becoming an easy byword for remote, windswept, mysterious; so that writers don't really have to work on a sense of place and atmosphere. Neither though, would I say it was a terrible book or a terrible idea. It's alright, but not special. 6/10