Sarah Moss is no newcomer to writing about isolation. Both "Summerwater" and "Ghost Wall" are set in places of confinement and inaccessibility. In "Cold Earth," visitors to a remote community hear that a deadly pandemic is spreading across the rest of the world. Moss' newest novel, "The Fell," which is coming out in the United States right as the world begins its third year of life with COVID, examines the effects of isolation and pandemic even more directly.

Single mother Kate and her teenage son Matt, residents of England's Peak District, are required to quarantine following exposure to the virus. When Kate starts feeling overwhelmed, her son suggests that she bake bread, start knitting or try an online workout. Instead, she breaks her legally mandated lockdown to slip out of the house with her rucksack and take a walk along the moors. What harm could she do, she thinks, just walking outside away from other human beings?

Their elderly neighbor Alice has been isolating in her home for months following cancer treatment. Looking through her window, she watches Kate leave her yard but decides not to report the violation to the authorities. When night falls and Kate has still not returned, Matt becomes increasingly worried and, with Alice's support, arranges for a search party to find his mother. Soon, a helicopter is flying overhead as emergency personnel comb the area with flashlights.

"The Fell" explores the way individual freedom conflicts with collective responsibility. Kate, an avid environmentalist who cares about the future of society enough to compost religiously and purchase only sustainable toothbrushes, has no intention of endangering anyone when she starts her hike. Nevertheless, her choice puts her community at risk.

Alice wonders what boundaries she should maintain in her efforts to help Matt. Matt is unsure how to approach the investigators. And one of the emergency workers will have to touch Kate's injured body, only to risk bringing the virus home to the son he has left behind.

These four characters narrate the book in individual sections full of extremely personal perspectives. They rarely appear in the same scenes, narrating only through their internal monologues. The intense separation between the characters reinforces the novel's major theme of isolation. Perhaps the most significant dialogue in the book is when Kate, lying injured along the path through the moors, hallucinates a judgmental raven who voices both Kate's suffering and her yearning for freedom.

Moss' short novel crystalizes our shared moment of global danger and allows us to observe its different facets. The book's ending, sadly, is not completely satisfying: After their traumatic experiences on the moors, the main characters don't experience personal transformations or have new insights. Perhaps, though, this limitation is exactly what Moss is trying to say: that the continuing pandemic, combined with the climate crisis, has stripped us of any hope for resolution.

"One of the things we're learning, we of the end times," Kate says to her raven, "is that humanity's ending appears to be slow, lacking in cliffhangers or indeed any satisfactory narrative shape."

Hannah Joyner is an independent historian and a freelance book critic in Washington, D.C. She talks about books and reading on her YouTube channel, Hannah's Books.

The Fell: A Novel
By: Sarah Moss.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 192 pages, $25.