A question of personal responsibility
When the Lights Go Out is an extremely well written and thoughtful novel. Bray’s characters and situations are believable and their individual personalities shine out. The story is well constructed and engrossing. But above all, this is a thought-provoking novel that is particularly appropriate reading right now, as we are still in the Covid-19 pandemic. I highly recommend it.
The novel centres on Chris, Emma and their family. It is set some time in the near future to the backdrop of climate change where they live with constant rain, unemployment and the constant psychological stress of trying to continue normal life while knowing that life will never be ‘normal’ again. Emma tries to do what she can – being vegetarian, using energy sparingly, making useful hand-made items as Christmas gifts. Chris is catastrophising and has become more extreme; his actions will eventually put them all at risk.
It’s a difficult book to read if you are conscious of climate change (who isn’t?) and feel that you should be doing more about it. Emma’s valiant efforts, which are probably similar to what many people are doing today, seem futile and insignificant in the face of the continuing downpour and the sense of impending doom. Chris’ survivalist behaviour is distressing his wife and kids, and you can see that he is close to being pushed over the edge by his worry about the future. His actions – like buying antibiotics online from some source his wife doesn’t trust – seem extreme.
And yet… Here we are in the midst of a natural catastrophe. Not climate change (yes, that’s still there but it’s somewhat on the back burner for now) but Covid-19. Buying surgical masks online for delivery from China and worrying if we are making ourselves and our families safer or putting them at risk of breathing in lung-damaging microparticles. Uncertain whether stocking up on toilet paper is a wise move or a ridiculous over-reaction. Questioning every decision, from whether it’s safe to see a friend (and should we both be wearing masks or not?) to whether you’ll put off seeing a doctor until it feels safer to go into a medical facility.
In this context, Emma and Chris’ reactions appear all-too believable and understandable. And while some readers may feel that Emma is level-headed and Chris has lost it, others will feel Chris is the one seeing reality and Emma is fiddling while Rome burns. You’ll certainly be asking yourself ‘where do I fit in this spectrum of worry/activism/powerless acceptance?’.
Covid-19 will, hopefully, become less of a threat in the coming months. Climate change won’t. This novel will remain a timely and valuable challenge, prompting readers to think about what’s happening and what their personal responsibility might be.
My thanks to Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
Find When the lights go out on Amazon and at other bookstores.
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