Reviewer: Madeleine Knowles
Publisher: Windmill Books 4th November 2021
ISBN: 978-1786091093 PB
When the Lights Go Out is a novel that follows the lives of a family in the lead-up to Christmas. During what is already a stressful time, more pressure is added as Emma’s husband Chris has become consumed with anxiety about climate change and what he believes is the end of the world as we know it. His obsession with the changes in the weather lead him to carry out increasingly extreme actions that begin to alienate him from his family and, specifically, his wife. Emma is sympathetic and compassionate about Chris’s very real worries, but his actions become difficult to justify. Chris, on the other hand, finds Emma’s optimism about the future exasperating. Their marriage begins to fray, ever heightened by a host of relatable stresses that are part and parcel of family life during the lead-up to Christmas.
Despite its seemingly gloomy theme, When the Lights Go Out is a tremendously witty and enjoyable read. Bray manages to create a nuanced and truthful exploration of how different people behave when faced with the most pressing issue of the twenty-first century. Holding up a microscope to everyday life, Bray’s compassionate storytelling offers readers acute and subtle observations that create a sense of warmth and intimacy towards her flawed characters. The sense of hopelessness in the novel is balanced out by many moments of genuine tenderness between this intergenerational family and I’m very happy to say that Bray’s prevailing message is that of hope.