The View on the Way Down is an achingly beautiful debut novel. It tells the story of two missing brothers, one dead and one disappeared, the sister left behind, who turns to God and food for comfort, and the parents who find their escape in creating things.
After a prologue which takes place over ten years ago, the novel opens in a Sheffield bookshop, workplace of Jamie, the ‘surviving’ brother, five years after Kit’s death. Unsurprisingly, as a former bookseller, I loved this setting. Bookshops are places of tremendous opportunity (I met my partner in one), and there are some lovely humorous moments where he deals with some frightfully particular customers. But the most brilliant thing of all is the irony of the setting. In books, we discover ourselves. VWe harvest information. Jamie, however, needs no such self-discovery. Already, he is far too aware of his abilities. Therein lies the greatest secret of the novel.
Jamie’s family, from which he is estranged, are also struggling to cope with Kit’s death. The mother, Rose is a compulsive cleaner and obsessive cook, who never dares to pretend they are anything other than the perfect nuclear family, for fear she may self-destruct. Impatient Joe, her husband, is the hardest character with which to sympathise. He treats Rose with barely disguised contempt and retreats to his shed to avoid what little family he has left. But he shows moments of tenderness, and one of the novel’s loveliest moments is when he presents Emma with hand carved wooden fruit on her fifteenth birthday.
Unsurprisingly, the hardest parts to read were both Kit’s and Jamie’s descent into depression. Brilliantly, like their father, they are also quite unlikeable at times, rendering Wait’s depiction of their breakdowns all the more realistic.
This is a deceptively simple book. Wait’s writing is never overwrought, making the rare moments of imagery all the more effective. For instance, it is only after reading a great deal that the brilliance of the opening can be appreciated fully. We realise that Rose has always used food to show love, giving her toddler Emma plenty of chips to keep her happy. So food is not used purely later on as an attempt to keep her fragile family together, but rather, we understand that Rose has always needed to use food as a uniting force at home.
I finished The View on the Way Down feeling very sad indeed, but not without hope for the characters. After all, although a Hollywood ending would have been inappropriate, depression need not mean tragedy for everyone.