‘Shuddering and jittering, as if caught on tiny hooks, tugged by invisible strings’ – The Dawning by Megan Taylor

The Dawning is Megan Taylor’s second novel. A dramatic domestic horror is one way I could describe it, a psychological undoing of the Haywood family one New Year’s Eve, a poetic almost-gothic novel where all the action takes place during one night.

New Year’s Eve is one of those times, for many people, where experience becomes accentuated, perceptions become distorted (not just because of the alcohol), but because we are conscious that this is a significant time. It’s the start of a new year, where we have the intentions to resolve issues, the chance for new beginnings. Megan Taylor takes advantage of this heightened time, by choosing to bring us into the lives of this family of five: Stella, post-natally depressed; Philip, deputy head in the school, has just found a lump in his testicle; Nicola, fifteen is heading for a party in the woods; and Zac, eleven, is left at home with depressed mum, baby sister Mia, and a lurking stranger in the garden. The adults are so immersed in their own problems, that the kids (as it describes on the back of the book) have ‘nowhere to turn when confronted by their own worst fears’.

The Dawning is one of those hungry reads: appetite whetted very early on, a tasty bit of fiction that you can’t devour fast enough. It’s fast-paced, tense, plenty of suspense and nail-biting moments. Much like her first novel How We Were Lost there is plenty of meat in the novel, and we are driven with the plot to want to reach the end to find out what is going to happen. It’s dark (literally dark for a lot of the novel, and emotionally dark, dark subject matter, dark in the way that it reaches down into each of the characters psyche and reveals inner fears, anxieties, moment by moment).

The narrative follows five points of view, and each chapter will switch to a different perspective. I guess with all novels with multiple points of view there is a chance/danger that the reader will prefer one of the narratives to others. Stella’s was wonderfully written, but hard for me to read because, well, she’s depressed, and entering into the thoughts and feelings of someone at the base-end of their depression is not exactly a joyful read. But, it’s insightful, and I thought, sensitively and authentically written. I wanted to tell Philip to get a grip, behaving like a bit of a big girl’s blouse, oblivious to his kids in trouble. I guess this is because we have the advantage of seeing all characters points of view, knowing what is hidden from other characters. I did feel for him to an extent, he’s lost in a way. But for me it was the child points of view that I loved reading the most. Megan has particular skill in evoking child and adolescent viewpoints, as if she has direct access into their experience. We’ve all been that age, but it’s hard to recapture it so vividly. Zac and Nicola are the strengths of character in this novel, despite the events that occur in the book. They are holding the family together and manage their own issues, much better than either of the adults do. The impact of what happens to Zac and Nicola, while horrific at the time, brutal, frightening, seems to have almost dissipated by morning, as though it hasn’t been as deep-reaching, fundamental to their development as the incidents themselves imply. But, of course, I’m not going to expose what happens; that is the thrill of this novel, waiting for everything to unravel, and wondering how bad it will get.

The writing is poetic, rich with imagery and description, evocative smells in particularly, but also a dizzying sense of descriptive imagination: ‘The air zips right up into the top of his nose and crackles there like tinfoil’; ‘There are several fine zigzagging scars beneath her collar bone, like scribbles in white pencil’; ‘Nicola can smell his sweat, a pure boy-smell, fustier and sweeter then the smoke from the fire.’; ‘his fingers are shuddering and jittering, as if caught on tiny hooks, tugged by invisible strings’. This heightened attention to sensory details creates the tension that builds as the book progresses. There is no single climax for the tension, but a series of moments, after which the ease in tension is almost relief, so we can enjoy the language again.

The only disappointment for me was the design of the book. How We Were Lost, Megan’s first novel, was beautifully designed by Flame Books. But I found The Dawning to be too small, stiff so that I had to bend back the spine to be able to read it properly (I hate with a passion bending the spines of books), not enough space around the text for my liking, and an uninspiring dark cover. Weathervane Press seems to be a very small press, mostly focusing on publishing books from writers in the Nottingham area. I hope they do their other authors more justice by paying more attention to the look of their books than this. It should not put you off, as the book is a killer read. But I just wanted to prepare you for the disappointment, as if you’re anything like me, how a book looks and feels has an impact on the experience of reading a book.

Any Cop?:  Yep, a dizzy, poetic, brutal, page-turning novel about a family in trouble one New Year’s Eve.

Annie Clarkson

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