‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss tells the story of Adam Goldschmidt, a stay-at-home dad and part-time academic, married to overworked GP Emma. Their eldest daughter fifteen-year-old Miriam suddenly collapses on a school playing field and nearly dies after going into anaphylactic cardiac arrest. In the aftermath of the incident, the family must find a way to move on and return to some form of normality whilst coming to terms with the possibility that Miriam’s condition could be genetic and may happen again at any time.
‘The Tidal Zone’ isn’t closely linked to Moss’s earlier novels although it is mentioned that Anna and Giles from Night Waking are friends of Adam and Emma, so it could be said that it exists in the same universe as her other books. Moss has previously explored motherhood to great effect and her deft portrayal of Adam as a househusband offers a fresh and original view of domestic drudgery and what it means to be – or not to be – a family breadwinner in 21st century Britain. She is brilliant at conveying low-level and unspoken resentment between couples with typically understated humour whilst demonstrating an acute awareness of the extent to which Adam constantly self-censors his true feelings whether he is faced with a life-and-death emergency situation or completing mundane chores.
As a highly contemporary state-of-the-nation novel, ‘The Tidal Zone’ encompasses education, health, finance and social justice among its key themes, tackling some of the biggest political challenges today through the personal circumstances of a single household in the West Midlands. Another strand of the story explores the youth of Adam’s father who spent time in a hippy commune in the United States while Adam’s PhD research on the history of Coventry Cathedral draws him towards the stories of local residents affected by the bombing raids during the Second World War and how they managed to carry on with their daily lives in a severe state of trauma.
Moss is one of the most devastatingly perceptive authors I’ve ever come across and her latest novel is her most nuanced and effective yet, capturing the sense of vulnerability felt by the Goldschmidts without succumbing to melodrama and mawkishness. Although ‘The Tidal Zone’ doesn’t appear on this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist, I really hope Moss is recognised by the Baileys Prize judges next spring as well as the Wellcome Book Prize for a third consecutive year having previously been shortlisted for Bodies of Light and Signs for Lost Children.