Rebecca Wait’s debut work explores the impact of depression and suicide. Having suffered a nervous breakdown herself, the author felt compelled to try and make sense of her illness by writing about it: She explains in the Afterword that ‘The novel was born out of darkness, but also out of relief and joy’.
Kit, Jamie and Emma are siblings; their parents are Joe and Rose. Following Kit’s death, Jamie has left home to live in Sheffield, where he is working in a bookshop. The circumstances surrounding his estrangement from his family are gradually revealed throughout the narrative. Being the only child at home with Joe and Rose, coupled with the bullying she suffers at school and insecurities about her weight, cause 14 year-old Emma to run away from home. She seeks out Jamie, bringing about the beginning of a rapprochement between him and the rest of the family. But this is not a fairy-tale reunion, as Kit’s death continues to cast its long shadows over all their lives.
I have suffered from depression for most of my adult life and although the condition is largely well-controlled nowadays, in the past I’ve found myself standing on the edge of the abyss. For this reason, Kit’s turmoil did resonate with me at some level, as did Emma’s alienation from her peers. However, Emma was a most unconvincing 15-year old. As the (proud) mother of a teenage daughter of the same age, I am well aware of the language and pre-occupations of girls of that age. They don’t generally include milkshakes, or making board games. Emma came across as a 9/10 year old and totally unbelievable as a result.
Much has been made of the fact that Rebecca Wait is only 24 years old. I’m sorry to have to say that I think this shows. I found her characters to be somewhat lacking; their emotional depth could have been plumbed more deeply. For me, the book lacked profundity and the naïve style did little to shed light on its dark subject matter. Like a flat stone on a lake, The View on the Way Down merely skimmed across the surface.