When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

When the Lights Go Out is the story of Emma, Chris and their sons, Dylan and James, who are living in north west England during a very prolonged, unseasonal spell of heavy rainfall.

They do not see eye to eye about the climate change argument. Emma is the main breadwinner and seems to be holding the family together, while making small doable changes to their lifestyle such as recycling, using public transport and creating homemade gifts. Chris has lost a lot of his gardening work due to the effects of the inclement weather and subsequent flooding. He is taking extreme measures, such as stockpiling food in the garage and preaching in the street about the coming environmental apocalypse, regardless of the suffering he is inflicting on his family.

In the spirit of compromise, Emma has been putting up with Chris’s strange and obsessive behaviour, but eventually she reaches her ‘red line’ and he realizes he has gone too far. I won’t spoil it for you by saying any more.

The writing is very atmospheric – you can almost feel the dampness seeping into your bones – and the descriptions of Chris’s strange behaviour depict an evangelical obsession which echoes the religious zealotry displayed by his family (particularly his father) when he was growing up.

The pace is quite slow to begin with, and I found it took me a while to get into the story. The point of view is split between Emma and Chris, with occasional chapters from James, and Chris’s mother Janet. I found it quite hard to empathize with Chris’s fanatical obsession, as he could no longer see how his behaviour was affecting everyone else.

 The story works on many levels: a family drama about a marriage under severe stress; all the differing views surrounding climate change; the effects of parents’ behaviour and beliefs on their children. It could have been quite a depressing tale, but is saved by the black humour.

I had not read anything by Carys Bray before, but will definitely try some of her previous books. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC to review.