Family life unfolds in David Roberts’s brilliant debut novel, The Way the Day Breaks, in backseat squabbles and sodden walks. There are camping holidays in the Pyrenees and subdued meals in front of the television. We follow a close-knit Yorkshire family over several years and watch mundanity slowly shade into tragedy. The mother, Caroline, is an exhausted teacher, overwhelmed at work by her pupils and at home by three children. The father, Sinclair, is brusque and garrulous, an English eccentric; over the course of the novel his schemes grow wilder, his conjectures more sinister. A habit of ‘twisting things’, steering conversations round to a given topic (tax breaks for religious organisations; the problem of dark matter), hardens into obsession and paranoia. His eventual breakdown forever alters the lives of his family.
Through Sinclair, Roberts traces with moving subtlety the lifelong effects of mental illness on both sufferers and those around them. Chapters alternate between sections of pure dialogue and the later reflections of the youngest son, Michael, so that what happened is framed by what came after. There are