New Year's Eve is generally a time of hope and celebration, a chance to say farewell to the old and welcome in the new. In The Dawning we're introduced to the Haywood family where there's little chance of hope or celebration. Over the course of one night each member faces the truth of their situation, with a dawning realisation that nothing is as they would like it to be.
The mother Stella is battling severe depression, the father Philip is entertaining fantasies of freedom, their eleven-year-old son Zachary (Zac) is busy avoiding the vicious school bully, while their teenage daughter Nicola can't quite believe how lucky she is to have a friend like Christine. Throughout this entire night baby Mia is an ever present after thought in the background.
The opening page describes a house in the Peak District that offers an illusion of warmth from the outside only to reveal an inner core that's a pressure cooker of tension. Zac feels `caught between two worlds' and rushes outside into the dark garden in search of relief.
"The air zips right up into the top of his nose and crackles there like tinfoil. The garden is freezing. Even the shadows look cold; the bushes are shivering, bristling as though with secrets."
The garden is full of secrets, and fear, as is the house. At first this scenario feels familiar, and then Taylor delivers a chilling shock that will knock the breath out of you, and then the shocks keep coming.
The writing is taut, visual and evocative as each member of the family falls apart. Some find an inner strength they hadn't realised they possessed; others are helped by unexpected sources, others sink even lower into a pit of self-inflicted misery. This book reels you in with each revelation and even though you instinctively know that it's going to get worse for the family you are compelled to read on, as it puts your emotions through a wringer and squeezes out every last drop of hope and horror. I was so riveted by this book that I read it in one sitting.