‘Global temperatures are rising.
The climate of the Abrams’ marriage is cooling’
– When the Lights Go Out
[ About the Book ]
Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.
Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.
The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.
Darkly funny and beautifully written, When the Lights Go Out is a novel for our times: a story about cultivating hope and weathering change.
[ My Review ]
When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray will be published with Hutchinson on November 12th. Carys Bray is the author of Costa-shortlisted A Song for Issy Bradley. When the Lights Go Out is the author’s third novel. Described as ‘deeply affecting’ in its examination of the reality of climate anxiety. it is also very much a novel about family. ‘Bray captures the reality of everyday family life with pinpoint precision. As the rain lashes down and the damp rises, a family struggles to stay afloat in the gathering domestic storm.’ (Publisher’s Quote)
Climate anxiety is a phenomenon that is gripping many members of society today, as the reality of the chaos our world has descended into becomes all encompassing. With many medical journals releasing papers on the impact of climate change on the well-being of people it is something we are all going to be reading a lot more about. A recent piece by The Guardian stated that ‘the physical impact of the climate crisis is impossible to ignore, but experts are becoming increasingly concerned about another, less obvious consequence of the escalating emergency – the strain it is putting on people’s mental wellbeing, especially the young.’ (Source – The Guardian Feb 2020)
Carys Bray examines the effect of climate anxiety on the family unit, when one member becomes obsessed with stockpiling food and cutting back on over-dependence on power etc in this very thought-provoking and, at times, shocking read.
Emma Abrams and her husband Chris have been happily married for years with two teenage boys. They both grew up in very different environments but from their initial meeting many years back, they became inseparable. Chris worked in horticulture but, with the fluctuations in the weather in recent years, the demand for his work has lessened. With longer spells of rain, localised flooding and changing lifestyles, Chris has been ruminating on the long-lasting effect of global warming. With less work available, Emma has become the breadwinner but she is exhausted. Working a number of jobs, both in and outside the home, leaves Emma with little time for herself. Emma is very conscious about the state of the environment. She up-cycles, recycles and is very efficient with her food usage but it is never enough for Chris.
Chris grew up in a very religious household with a sanctimonious father who literally lorded it over Chris, his sister and his mother.
‘Heaven was the destination, but without a fixed route there were U-turns and diversions and sometimes the same roads were traversed year after year. There was no point in asking “Are we nearly there yet?” They were always nearly there.’
After his father passed his mother began to realise the imperfections in her relationship with her children but it is too late to repair the damage caused?
As Chris’ obsession grows, he preaches on the streets –
‘He looks like a prophet. arm extended in exhortation as he stands beside the war memorial. All he needs is a staff. And a robe, A robe of righteousness – has she made that up? She doesn’t think so; it’s got a decidedly Biblical ring. Emma watches as people pass him. She has no idea whether he usually stands in front of the memorial on a Saturday morning or if this is a one-off. He is wet and cold; he is beset and troubled. His name is Chris, and he is her husband.’
Emma is struggling. As Chris attempts to save the world their marriage is disintegrating and Emma is unable to see a way back. As Christmas approaches, the pressure increases and Emma is at the end of her tether. Always one to see the positive and to manage with what she has, Chris’ inability to parent properly and to be present for her causes her to rethink her life and what it has now become. Chris is blind to his immediate world. His preoccupation with the world beyond his own bubble is changing him. Occasionally Emma catches glimpses of the man she married but can she rescue him and bring him back to her and the boys?
When the Lights Go Out is a very interesting novel. Admittedly, I did struggle with sections as I wondered where the story was taking me. I found it quite an unconventional read which can be a positive thing in many ways as it opens the eyes and makes one think about the underlying message of a book. There is no question that Carys Bray can write. Her prose is beautiful, at times almost poetic, with very vivid descriptions throughout and the amount of research and thought that went into creating this work is clearly evident.
As we currently fight an invisible enemy with the onslaught of Covid19, we have to ask ourselves questions? Are we more like Emma, doing our bit locally and in our own homes for what we perceive to be perhaps enough? Or should we be a little more like Chris and be looking at things on a more global scale? It’s all too easy to have the NIMBY approach ( Not In My Back Yard) but what happens when the cards begin to fall?
An intriguing and thought-provoking novel, When the Lights Go Out is a very tender exploration of love and marriage, of hopes and dreams and of a world that is changing at a frightening speed before our eyes. It is quite a contemporary read which will most certainly find its niche in the literary world with its wonderful and subtle observations about relationships and its highlighting of the impact our changing climate is having on our populations’ mental health.
[ Bio ]
Carys Bray was awarded the Scott Prize for her debut short-story collection, Sweet Home. Her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley, was chosen for Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and winner of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2015. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.
Twitter ~ @CarysBray