Only weeks into their marriage, a young couple embark on a six-month period of separation. Tom Cavendish goes to Japan to build lighthouses, and his wife, Ally, a doctor, begins her work at the Truro asylum. As the couple navigate their separate professional trials, the foundations of their marriage begin to slip.
An exquisite novel of the 1880s told in alternating parts: two maps of absence - two distinct but conjoined portraits of loneliness and determination.
©2016 Sarah Moss (P)2016 Oakhill Publishing
"Sarah Moss is one of our country's most underrated writers.... Ally is one of the most memorable heroines of recent fiction. These books scream TV drama. You'll have forgotten Poldark and Outlander in no time. If there is one author you take a chance on this year, let it be her - it's time, and money, well spent." (The Times)
"Ally's torment is sympathetically rendered and is skilfully counterbalanced by Moss's sensual and beguiling descriptions of Japan." (Daily Mail)
"A quietly devastating portrait.... Moss is an effortlessly elegant writer and [Signs for Lost Children] is a compelling, often harrowing, occasionally heartbreaking read. It seems to me, with this book, that it's no longer sufficient to call what Moss is doing 'novel-writing'. Taken together, these three books constitute an ongoing interrogation of the role of women within the family, and in the wider world, and it's a broader, knottier enterprise than the word novel allows. A project, perhaps you could call it, of the lifelong variety. An undertaking." (Guardian)
"As with Bodies of Light, the richness of Moss's work is astonishing. Few writers demonstrate such quietly magisterial command of the rocky territories of both the heart and mind." (Independent)
"Moss captures Japan in the 1880s with chromatic elegance [and] lyrical descriptions. Signs for Lost Children [is] a rich and intricate novel." (Sunday Times)
"Heartfelt.... This wonderful, subtle novel picks up the strands of the story Sarah Moss began in Bodies of Light. This [is a] fine novel." (Sunday Express)
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
Signs of Lost Children follows on from Moss's Bodies of Light, but is also stand-alone. It's an immensely sophisticated, interesting and different novel. It's such an intelligent and earnest work that it seems mean not to give it straight 5s, but it does have some imperfections.
Set in the 1880s, Ally and Tom are separated by their work just weeks after their marriage. Tom travels to Japan to build lighthouses and Ally, a qualified doctor, begins work at Truro asylum. Immediately we know this is no ordinary nineteenth century couple, and this is no ordinary novel! The main body of the story is taken up alternating between Tom in Japan and Ally in England, but I found the best part was very much towards the end when they come together again after 6 months and their apartness is almost impossible to bridge. The very end is the only glimmer of what you might expect from a nineteenth century novel...
Moss is a beautiful writer, as sensitive and delicate when describing the filigree of leaves in a Japanese garden, the fineness of Japanese embroideries; the indignities of female inmates of the madhouse, the wildness of the Cornish coast, and most of all, the intricacies of the heart and mind. The whole is sympathetically and pleasantly narrated with sensible pauses between the Japanese and English sections which give you just the required moment to make the adjustment.
The elements which made me slightly disappointed overall was the way that Tom's very interesting experiences with the Japanese culture and his lighthouse work was shadowy in comparison with the detail in Ally's life, as the indelible corrosive effects of her mother's harsh morality and carping cause her to suffer a breakdown and she struggles to find acceptance as a doctor working amongst insane women. The whole work is massively and scrupulously researched and a whole raft of issues and their ramifications - from mental instability to the legacy of childhood on adulthood and the struggle for identity - are explored. This is always interesting but sometimes the intellectual freight becomes too heavy as ideas become stronger than the characters.
Moss's novels are gathering critical acclaim fast and I will certainly download her newest novel The Tidal Zone.
I love the depth of the characters and their personal journeys. Ally continues to make her way in the world as one of the first female doctors in the UK and focusing on an underdeveloped aspect of medical science: the treatment of psychiatric patients. And her personal life has changed a lot compared to the last book and keeps changing throughout this one.
When Ally's visit to Manchester comes to an end. Also, Tom's journey through Japan was incredible.
It was completely unobtrusive. And by that, I don't mean that it wasn't memorable. Even a great narrator can sometimes make me feel that they're obstructing the flow of the story, but not her. I thoroughly enjoyed her style.
Yes, I did. It made me cry a couple of times. It moved me deeply and it was one of those books leaves me thinking about it even when I'm already halfway through the next one. The personal journeys the characters go through and their emotions are so well described, that at times I felt what they were feeling. And I find some of the things they go through so relatable! I've been through a couple of those situations and I couldn't believe the author's ability to capture the emotions and thought they provoked.
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