Sarah Moss is Filippa in Babette’s Feast

Babette's Feast

Author Sarah Moss’s atmospheric, ghostly debut novel Cold Earth (Granta) is set in Arctic Greenland. As the temperature drops, six ill-prepared archaeologists, who are attempting to unearth traces of a lost Viking settlement, begin to suspect that there’s something decidedly eerie watching their faltering progress. Fittingly, Sarah Moss’s choice of filmic alter ego also inhabits a haunted, wintery world… EITHNE FARRY

‘If I could be a character in a film…’

Before my children were born, I used to write early in the morning, sometimes finishing a day’s work before most people had got to the office. On those days, I rewarded myself with solitary afternoon cinema trips, settling back with blissful anonymity and fine chocolate in Oxford’s art house cinema, to watch anything at all as long as it didn’t involve people getting killed on screen. Cinema-going is among the worst casualties of parenthood, and I’ve hardly been at all in the last eight years, but I think if I could choose now I’d want to be Filippa in Babette’s Feast, and not only for the food at the end. Filippa and her sister Martina live almost in silence for most of their lives, honouring the commands of their dead father, a dissenting minister who forbade them from realising any kind of dream. Theirs are impoverished lives in almost every sense, but the cinematography makes their windswept headland and the dark clothes and simple movements of their daily lives hauntingly beautiful. From my house, full of toys and pictures and little pots of smoked paprika and recherché teas, the scrubbed floorboards, white walls and bare windows of the sisters’ cold home seem enormously appealing. I’m sure I’d hate it in reality – after all, I like new shoes and silly hats and over-priced cupcakes and would be much happier in the 1870s Paris Babette is fleeing than on the dour Danish peninsula where she finds refuge – but the low northern light, the wind through the grass and the greyness of the sea stay with me for days after I’ve watched the film.

Cold Earth by Sarah Moss is published by Granta.