Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Living in the echo of suicide

  • 05 April 2013

The View on the Way Down, Rebecca Wait, Picador, 2012


Suicide is no easy topic. So, from the outset, my apologies to my Book Chat colleague, Barry. The View on the Way Down, by 25-year-old first-time UK author Rebecca Wait, veers headlong into this uncomfortable territory. And it does not apply the brakes.

The novel opens with two brothers on the beach, digging their way to 'Australia', they joke conspiratorially. Their mother is tending to her baby; their father absentmindedly scans the paper. A storm darkens the horizon. This is a Polaroid family idyll under threat.

We quickly shift to the present and meet this same family — or what's left of it — in daily survival mode, visibly reeling from the suicide of one of the brothers, the eldest, Kit, some years earlier.

Despite having been 'spared' the truth of her brother's death, the 'baby', now-14-year-old Emma, is rudderless, seeking more than sustenance (oblivion, perhaps?) in food and religion. Her parents Joe and Rose go about their day duly avoiding each other, as if a wrong word or glance alone can kick up the dust of painful memories.

The family home is thick with absence. Kit's room remains a shrine — down to the Lego he'd left behind — yet Jamie, once the shadow of his older brother, has been all but erased. The reasons for his estrangement are both complex and heart-rending, and Wait takes her time to peel back the many layers.

Wait's masterstroke is her minimalism. This is how she manages to be both stirring and straight-shooting in a single sentence. 'And this time Rose had nothing to say in response,' she writes, 'because she knew it was the truth that she had blamed Jamie, too, and if Joe was responsible for driving him away, she was just as guilty for not protecting him.'

This, to me, seems so utterly authentic. So much about suicide centres on the unspoken; the gaping spaces in between those who are left behind. Wait is nothing if not a writer of economy. In unpacking grief, there's no sign of platitudes. Her intentions are clear. Without a filter we must see compassion with new eyes. And there's nothing comfortable, or comforting, about what we see.

Jamie is the trembling heart of the book, don't you agree, Barry? He's the 'lost son' made to carry the heaviest of burdens. The price he pays for his empathy is absolute and inexorable: 'He'd