Night Waking – Sarah Moss

Night Waking

Five words from the blurb: Scottish, island, family, funny, haunted

Night Waking is an insightful glimpse into the life of a family who move to an uninhabited Scottish island. Anna Bennett is a historian who is trying to write a book whilst looking after her two sons. Unfortunately she is sleep deprived and so beginning to resent the constant demands of her children. She’d love a bit of extra help from her husband, or even just an acknowledgment of her efforts, but he is normally absent – monitoring puffin numbers on the other side of the island. 

The family’s life is complicated when they discover the remains of a baby buried in their garden. The police suspect that the body has been placed there in recent history and so investigations force the couple to suspect their close family, causing added tension.

Intertwined with this story are letters from a woman who came to the island at the end of the 19th century in an effort to reduce infant mortality. These letters, along with snippets from Anna’s book about childhood and institutions provided an added depth that I found fascinating.

I could relate to many of Anna’s frustrations and found myself laughing out loud as she struggled to juggle to the demands of two children – the scenes where she reads The Gruffalo over and over again had a particular resonance with me.

The writing was of a high quality throughout, but I suspect that the subject matter will mean that this book has greatest appeal to women with children.

In theory, I disapprove of cooking. It’s not a coincidence that ready meals and supermarkets appeared at the same time as equal opportunities legislation. In practice cooking means that you can hide in the kitchen wielding knives and listening to Radio Four and still be a Good Mummy, thus achieving a variety of domestic servitude which is still not, I believe, what Mary Wollstonecraft, Emmeline Pankhurst or Betty Friedan had in mind.

This engaging modern story, filled with historical detail, is one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Highly recommended.


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  1. Annabel says:

    I have this high in my reading pile – glad you liked it. Did you read her first novel ‘Cold Moss’ which some people have commented was rather similar to this one; I enjoyed that one.

    1. Annabel says:

      I meant Cold Earth, not Moss, of course.

    2. Jackie says:

      Annabel, No, I haven’t read Cold Earth, but it is on my wishlist after reading this one. I hope that you enjoy Night Waking as much as I did.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I am unfamiliar with this one but it sounds really good. I will have to keep an eye out for it!

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, I’m pleased I was able to bring such a wonderful book to your attention. :-) I hope that you enjoy it if you decide to give it a try.

  3. This is a book I have at home and have been wanting to read since I saw it on the ‘Fiction Uncovered’ list (an initiative I think is a brilliant one). I am waiting for the right time. I also have high hopes as I just read one of the other titles ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and that was marvellous.

    Glad you liked this one so much Jackie. Oh and I empathise with The Gruffalo only in this household its Thomas The Tank Engine books.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I had forgotten that this made the Fiction Uncovered short list – they are picking some wonderful books so I am very excited about trying the rest. The Proof of Love is high on my list so I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed it.

      I get my fair share of Thomas books to read too. I don’t like reading the Thomas books so I am pleased my boys are starting to grow out of him. Julia Donaldson is a far more enjoyable to read.

  4. This one sounds really intriguing to me! It doesn’t look like it’s out in the U.S. yet, but her earlier novel is available at my library, and I hope I like it as much as you enjoyed this one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Carrie, I didn’t realise that this wasn’t out in the US yet – sorry :-( I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Cold Earth though. Enjoy :-)

  5. I haven’t heard of this book before, but it sounds very interesting.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, I think you’d enjoy it. :-)

  6. Brenna says:

    Wow Jackie that is high praise coming from you! Just added to my TBR. :) I trust your recommendations after How I Became a Famous Novelist was one of the funniest books I’ve read all year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, This is very different to Steve Hely’s book, but if you have ever had to look after children then I’m sure you’ll find some sections of this book very funny. This book has a lot more depth to it though – don’t expect the plot to move as quickly as Famous Novelist. I hope that you enjoy it :-)

  7. Jenners says:

    It is always fun to read books that reflect your life back at you so this does sound like a book I’d enjoy too. Nothing like seeing another mom feeling your pain!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes – it is always nice to know that others are experiencing the same things. I guess most mothers have a few amusing stories of their own, but Sarah Moss has a great writing style that gets the situations across in such a simple, but amusing way.

  8. Well, this does sound good, and coupled with your “best so far” rating, I’ll be adding it to the wish list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. :-)

  9. Mystica says:

    Though I liked this book I found it haunting and heavy going.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, I can see why you might have found this heavy going – the writing isn’t as fast flowing as some books. I liked the added depth and intelligent observations though – they gave a real sense of place and I loved the detailed research. Hauting is always a positive for me too. Sorry you didn’t fall in love with it as much as I did.

  10. LizF says:

    Senior daughter (now 25) was every bit as sleepless a toddler as Moth, in fact if it wasn’t that Sarah Moss would only have been a child herself at the time, I could swear that she must have been a fly on the wall of numerous bedrooms, home and away, as I sat by my daughter’s bed and waited for her to go to sleep!
    As you can guess, I loved this book! Such a change to see a ‘real’ mum portrayed in a book rather than the usual current extremes of glossy yummies or neglectful harridans!
    The strands of the story were beautifully interwoven too – not many writers can combine haunting sadness with passages funny enough to make you laugh out loud.
    Do read Cold Earth – it’s quite different but utterly gripping and I for one am really looking forward to whatever Sarah Moss writes next.
    PS My daughter eventually started reliably sleeping through the night when she was 5 ….and her younger brother had come along to keep me awake!

    1. Jackie says:

      Liz, It is great to see that you loved this as much as I did. I totally agree about the ‘real mum’. I liked the fact that this book was so realistic and didn’t worry about embellishing the story with wacky plot twists. This meant I could relate to Anna very strongly. I look forward to reading Cold Earth – I think Sarah Moss could become one of my new favourite authors. :-)

  11. Alex says:

    Even since living is Scotland and visiting the Island of Mull and Iona I had this fantasy of living there for a year – the hard winter, the warm fireplace, the tight community… this might just be the book to shatter my romantic fantasies :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I don’t think that this book will do much to reduce your fantasies :-) This book is based on St Kilda and I think it might make you want to move there (as long as you don’t bring any children with you!)

  12. sakura says:

    I’m definitely interested in reading this, especially if there are lots of historical detail plus it’s a mystery.

  13. Andi says:

    This is another one that sounds like just my bag. Thanks for a great review, Jackie!

  14. Kathleen says:

    I like the idea of the intertwined stories and I also want to know how that baby got there. Sounds like an intriguing read!


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