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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.
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