'Night Waking' by Sarah Moss has been listened to in two long bursts, one day before Christmas and then the second half finished in the new year. I find descriptions of parenting sometimes a little hard to read in stories; I find myself being overly critical of the way a character treats their child, and I get annoyed by the often clichéd way writers depict children's behaviour in books. Having said that I think that this book shows very clearly the dichotomy that some mothers experience, between the life that they led before children and the one they have as a parent, and that their sense of loss does not mean that they don't love or want their children but it is hard to let go of your old way of thinking about yourself.
Anna and Giles have come to live on a remote Scottish island with their children, the precocious Raf and the 'night waking' toddler Moth. They find the buried body of a baby in their garden, and Anna find herself obsessed with its origin and so alongside her struggles to complete her book and cope with sleep-deprived and isolated parenting, she begins looking into the history of the island. I found myself focussing very hard on the family relationships in my first half listening and it wasn't until I came back to the story a fortnight later that I found myself caught up in the parallel tale of the Victorian young woman who has been sent to the island to oversee the medical needs of the islanders. The image of a harsh life that the islanders experience and her attempts to break into their very insular community are contrasted very sharply with the affluent family who come to rent the renovated blackhouse that Giles hopes will help to fund the puffin research that he is doing on the island. The story revolves mostly around Anna however, her struggles with parenthood and academia, trying to cope with the inhospitable and remote island that her husband has bought her to, and then the family troubles of the blackhouse guests that she finds herself embroiled with. The mystery of the skeleton however opens up new areas of interest and research and finally encourages her to see beyond her narrow 'Oxford' comfort zone to a life that can also encompass this new place. A very satisfying story, with some very interesting background issues about the history of island communities, particularly about forced migration.