If you are lucky, you stumble upon books that change your life. Don’t mind my dramatic tone… In fact, do mind, because today’s post is special. I couldn’t put down my feelings, I couldn’t come up with a review. I read a book, and I felt different. Isn’t it magic when it happens?
I can’t thank Little, Brown UK enough for letting me read a copy of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Title: After The End
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Publisher: Little, Brown UK
Date of publication: 25 June 2019
Format: NetGalley copy
Number of pages: 384
Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son.
What if they could have both?
A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find. With the emotional power of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Mackintosh helps us to see that sometimes the end is just another beginning.
When we, book bloggers, finish a book, we often start thinking about the best way to review it. We want our opinion to be clear. We want to convey what happened to us between the opening and the ending page of the author’s work.
When I put down After The End, I understood a review wouldn’t do. This is why I am writing you a letter. Not as a book blogger. Not as a serial reader. As a woman talking to another woman.
I escape life through crime fiction. I find it easier to face dead bodies and monsters rather than life’s unfairness and hardships. There is a protective wall between me and the rest of the world. Well, actually, this is no longer true. There was a wall. After The End attacked it, each word hitting the stones, creating a hole. A small one at first. A mouse escape. Just enough for me to feel my heart tighten when I met Pip and Max. It grew bigger when the antiseptic smells of the hospital reached my nose and Dylan appeared in front of my eyes. Rain passed through the hole when I got to meet Leila.
Page after page, I felt my defenses fall. How do you protect a child from an invisible illness leaving traces on a frail and pale body which should be hitting a ball in a park or eating cookies while playing cards with his parents? We never hear from Dylan himself, and his silence, contrasting with his presence, immensely felt throughout the novel, dug a winding path on my cheeks for my tears to follow.
I am not one for crying. I read Me Before You without even blinking. I remember thinking ‘What kind of monster am I?’ But I now know I wasn’t at fault. Neither was the book. I just needed a voice, faces, roads written in a different way. I needed a key to open the door to the fears I was keeping at bay. Your writing is that key.
I sound very dramatic, don’t I? After The End is dramatic. It is a tragedy. It is one of life’s coins. And like every coin, it has two faces. Tragedy can’t happen without happiness. Pip and Max cling to this happiness, holding those moments as weapons against Dylan’s tumor. They hold on to each other in the most beautiful and heartbreaking way. They gave me hope, even in the darkest chapters. You breathed life into them, you surrounded them by it, then threw them in the coldest night. Car trips. The exhaustion of caring for someone. The rain. The meals. Long nights. Love. You crafted them so well I could almost touch them. They left the pages to sit next to me as I was reading. No one can make me believe that you didn’t pour your entire heart into this novel. It shows. It shines through.
A power couple faced with an impossible decision. A terminally ill son, and its fate in their hands. Is life with constant medical support worth living? Is there hope? Is it torture? Is it selfish to wish for more time? The tragedy of our human condition. We don’t have the answer. There is no right answer.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to choose. It only means you will carry a weight for the rest of your life. A red scar burning your soul. What happens when parents disagree? Then the court comes in. Law talks. Like medicine and science, the law must look at the facts, at the best decision at a given time.
Oh, I had never wished for a man and a woman to find each other again more than I did for Pip and Max. The way you handled their differences, the slow and inevitable gap forming between them. The bridge left by the love they have shared, share, and always will.
Am I rambling? Probably. Pardon me, for my mind is crowded with thoughts and my chest is filled with emotions threatening to make me explode. (I am writing this right after having finished the book. Before I change my mind and chicken out.) I don’t want to chicken out. I want to earn a millimeter of the courage the novel holds, a milligram of the strength it took you to write After The End.
Because it needs saying. Thank you for dealing with such a current, painful topic. Thank you for creating amazing parents, fascinating second characters, and a door to a world that is just one step from any of us. Thank you for the respect with which you treated both sides. Thank you for walking both sides of the argument with a clear mind, moments and thoughts so spot-on they scared me.
The blogger inside me wants a word… Would I recommend After The End? Yes. A million yes.
Why? Because the writing can pierce the hardest armor. Because everyone needs a Pip, a Max, a Dylan, a Leila, to try and understand, to ponder, and most of all, to feel. This book is the closest you can get to the topic of survival, and what it means to live.
But you, dear Claire, doesn’t stop there. Because life doesn’t stop, does it?
No, you give us the unpredictable, insane, and indestructible chapters of the After. Pip’s choice. Max’s choice. Parallel roads never to cross path. Each offers its load of tears, grief, doubt, and struggles. But then the unthinkable happens. Hope. Survival. Again, this word. My heart, after having slowed so much during the pivotal time, started beating again. It hurt, it smiled, it jumped, it stopped. With a prose I can’t praise enough, you gave me a taste of what a phoenix goes through when it rises from the ashes. It is not new, it carries its past, and it goes on. Life may not be what you wanted it to be, but it is what it is.
June 2019. I have found a profoundly moving novel, a stunning and tragic tale. My favourite book of the year.
Thank you for breaking my wall and reminding me crying is okay, feeling is okay, and that turning your head the other way doesn’t make it disappear, it only pushes your further away from reality. I didn’t know I needed this kind of book until I found yours. I am glad I read it. I will read it again. I will talk about it and ask my friends, acquaintances, and even strangers to give it a chance. Because an exceptional book needs eyes to dance its choreography.
Ps: no, I didn’t only cry. I went through so many emotions that a book hangover doesn’t cover the way I feel right now!
I urge everyone to mark the date. 25 June 2019. Get the book.
Clare’s debut novel, I Let You Go, is a Sunday Times bestseller and was the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer in 2015. It was selected for both the Richard and Judy Book Club, and was the winning title of the readers’ vote for the summer 2015 selection, and ITV’s Loose Women’s Loose Books. Her second novel, I See You, is a number 1 Sunday Times bestseller, and a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Clare’s books are translated into more than 30 languages.
Clare is the patron of the Silver Star Society, an Oxford-based charity which supports the work carried out in the John Radcliffe Hospital’s Silver Star unit, providing special care for mothers with medical complications during pregnancy