When I started The View on the Way Down I wanted a quick read, and I was interested in the family-focused drama that the description suggested. The book follows a family. Emma is fourteen. She used to have two brothers – five years ago, Kit died, and Jamie left on the day of the funeral. In their family home, neither of them is ever mentioned.
This book takes on themes of depression, grief, family bonds and lies. From Goodreads, I can tell many people loved this story, but unfortunately for me it fell very flat. The blurb’s claims of opening your eyes and breaking your heart weren’t quite right for me.
Unfortunately, I spent the majority of my time reading this book just feeling incredibly frustrated. At its heart, it is a touching story of a family in trauma, but for me it just didn’t get going.
I had two major irritations through the book – the first being that every single problem the characters had could be solved or made better by talking to each other, and they repeatedly refuse to. In fairness, Wait does a brilliant job of displaying how thoroughly each character justifies their own course of actions. They individually are coping as best as they think they can, but at the end of the day, I was cross with them, in particular Rose and Joe.
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They had a child with depression and they still did not learn or comprehend that talking about the things that are eating you alive helps. It is difficult, but that doesn’t make it pointless. Joe saw that getting Kit therapy initially made a difference to his son’s struggle, and he still refuses grief counselling. Rose surely knows, through all her pretending, that things aren’t okay yet, but she insists on playing the extended game of being a good wife and mother that seems to have defined her life. Emma frustrated me as well, but at the end of the day I blamed that on her parents as well. For a couple who had three children and lost two, they completely fail to appreciate their third. They both lie to her, her father’s lack of handle on his own emotions denies her a relationship with her only living sibling, and her mother’s need to pretend they’ve moved on forces her to perform a happy teenagerdom that she isn’t experiencing.
The second was to do with structure. When the narrative opens, we know Kit died five years ago and we know that Jamie left soon after – we know that there is a lot of anger between Jamie and his parents, and a lot of pain and very little understanding on Emma’s part. The book set up the exact circumstances as some sort of mystery to be solved, but I didn’t feel it worked. It didn’t produce any tension, just left me lacking any sympathy I might have felt for Rose and Joe from the start if I’d understood what, precisely, they were recovering from. It prevented me from understanding Jamie’s character because I had no frame of reference for why he was living in Sheffield, working in a bookshop, and completely estranged from his family. Every character except Emma already knew this omitted information, and the narrative doesn’t even use her ignorance in the final explanation of what happened – in fact, we never see Emma find out the full circumstances of her elder brother’s death at all. I felt that the mystery element of the novel fell short.
[spoilers this para]
I was also confused by the character of Alice. While her role in alerting Jamie’s parents to his whereabouts is obviously important, I didn’t understand why her story was included beyond that, since it had so little influence on other events beyond that chance meeting and subsequent phone call. Again, she irritated me – if I believed she still loved Jamie, I would have had more sympathy, but as it was she just seemed to want to be connected to the tragedy, to publicly show that she’s a good person. I felt like her husband could do so much better – and it irritated me that he was the one to solve her distractedness.
What I find interesting is how Rebecca Wait wrote this as a person who has experienced depression, and yet for me, a person who has also experienced depression, the portrayal bore so little resemblance to my own experiences, and felt incredibly general. Kit’s descriptions of his depression to me felt so vague and melodramatic. This isn’t a criticism of the novel at all, because obviously however Wait chooses to describe or creatively explore something she has felt is valid, I was just amazed at how different two versions of the same illness could be.
I think for me, the problem was that this book aims to ‘open your eyes’ – but the issues it explores are something my eyes were already open to, so I wasn’t willing to go slow enough to join this family on their learning curve. That said, I can see this may be a really useful or enlightening book for a reader coming from a different perspective than mine.
This is a thoughtful exploration of mental health issues and family life, but personally there was a lot I didn’t gel with. However the writing style made it a pretty quick read, and while the subject matter is intense I didn’t find it too heavy, which hopefully makes it accessible. For me, there are better explorations of the subject matter out there which are less likely to make me bang my head against a wall, but I’m certain there are other people for whom this is perfectly pitched.