Well, after reading Gary Brandner’s “Death Walkers“, I was still in the mood for the macabre. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a rather interesting second-hand book that I ended up getting several weeks earlier because of the intriguing premise, I am of course talking about Claire North’s 2017 novel “The End Of The Day”.
So, let’s take a look at “The End Of The Day”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
The novel begins with a man called Charlie sitting in a hotel room with some pills and wondering if death will come for him. Then we flash back to some time earlier when Charlie is in Peru, meeting an old woman who is the last speaker of a language. There is another flashback scene showing Charlie taking a job interview in Milton Keynes for the position of Harbinger Of Death. The messenger that travels ahead of Death, sometimes as a courtesy and sometimes as a warning…..
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is amazing 🙂 It’s this wonderfully unique mixture of poignant drama, dark comedy, magical realism, topical satire, chillingly realistic horror, heartwarming “feel good” moments, profound thought-provoking stuff, fascinating places, fascinating ideas etc…
It is an intelligent, humane and mature (in the truest sense of the word) novel that goes beyond merely telling a story to taking on an almost spiritual quality at times. In other words, it is art. It has literary merit. You will feel slightly richer, or changed, after reading it. In short, if you enjoy things like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics or Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic, then this book is probably your sort of thing 🙂
Interestingly, although this is a novel that is quite literally about death, it isn’t as much of a horror novel as I’d expected. Yes, there are a few gruesome moments, descriptions of disturbing events/situations (eg: torture, war, poverty etc…) and even a scene that is vaguely reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of Red Death”, but it isn’t really a horror novel. It’s more of an exploration of the concept of death itself, with – for example – the death of an idea, or a place, or a phase of a person’s life or a period of history being described with the same dramatic weight as an actual death. And, like with Tarot cards, death is presented more as a force of change than of destruction.
This is also one of the novel’s major themes. It is about how the world is constantly changing (in both good and bad ways) and how this is an essential part of the world. This is also the focus of a lot of the novel’s topical stuff and it is one of those wonderfully rare things, an intelligent modern left-leaning novel that doesn’t really feel the need to earnestly preach at the reader in the patronising way that some novels do. It actually respects the reader’s intelligence, maturity and knowledge of the world and this is so refreshing to see. Yet, at the same time, it also makes a lot of points about a lot of topical stuff.
And, as well as being a timeless novel about one of the most timeless things in existence (or non-existence, as it may be), it is also a very modern novel at the same time. There is a lot of topical stuff here, which is handled in all sorts of amusing, interesting, serious, poignant and/or clever ways.
In addition to scenes set in places like melting ice caps and war-torn Syria, one fascinating experimental feature of the novel – which really sets the mood – is that some chapters consist entirely of random dialogue fragments from conversations near Charlie (it is left ambiguous whether these take place in his mind or not). Although it takes a while to get used to these chapters, they feel like a fascinating glimpse into the collective subconscious mind in a way that is really difficult to describe, but really effective.
This novel is about more things than I can describe here but, in addition to the themes that I’ve already mentioned, it is also a novel about capitalism, it is about how we lose humanity when we see others as less than human (shown, amongst other things, by random lines that consist entirely of the words “human” and “rat” in varying quantities. It makes sense in context), it is about how unique everyone is, it is about how similar everyone is. It is about a lot of stuff. But it is also a fascinating story at the same time, feeling like an intriguing glimpse at several years in the life of a man with a very unusual job.
In terms of the characters, they are excellent 🙂 Since this is a novel about life and humanity, the characters are probably the most important part of the story. Seriously, I cannot praise the characterisation here highly enough.
Earlier, I likened this novel to both Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic and this is mostly because of the realistic, interesting, nuanced characters. Even Charlie, who seems like a bit of a bland “everyman”/”expert traveller” kind of character at first, gains more depth and realism as the story progresses. Still, the numerous people he meets along his travels throughout the world are often slightly more interesting characters – many of whom are pretty much short stories in their own right.
Plus, like in “Sandman”, Death is actually a character too (who is often friendly, unless angered or summoned). In fact, all four horsemen of the apocalypse are characters. They retain their essential qualities and personalities, whilst also changing appearance, gender, shape etc… depending on who is looking at them at any one time. This both shows how they are timeless and yet still very much shaped by the world they live in. It’s difficult to describe, but it works really well. Not to mention that the scenes involving the horsemen are sometimes absolutely hilarious too.
In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is amazing 🙂 Yes, it might take you a little while to work out what is happening in the early parts of the story and to get used to a few slightly experimental elements (like the random dialogue fragments I mentioned earlier), but stick with it!
Most of this novel is written in a way that is informal/matter of fact enough to both feel realistic and to be easily readable, yet the writing is also descriptive, poetic (eg: certain repeated lines, descriptions etc..), vivid etc.. enough to literally make you feel like you’re reading an amazing graphic novel (eg: Gaiman, Rowntree etc..) at the same time. Yet, it also does all sorts of amazing stuff that can only be done with the written word and it is one of those novels that would lose a lot of it’s atmosphere, richness and depth if it was ever adapted to the screen or to a comic. Again, this is hard to describe fully, but it works really well.
In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 403 pages in length, it is a bit on the longer side of things, but justifies it’s length by telling a story that is both epic and small-scale at the same time. In terms of the pacing, this novel moves at a fairly moderate pace (and doesn’t have a traditional “plot”, which may put some readers off) – but this is one of those books that is atmospheric, unique, thought-provoking, emotionally-powerful, intelligent etc.. enough that you’ll probably want to savour it over several days rather than binge-read it.
All in all, this review probably hasn’t done justice to how good this book is. It is an intelligent, readable, compelling, unique, profound, humane, quirky, funny, chilling, sad, happy and fascinating novel. It is a piece of art that you will leave feeling richer than when you entered. Or, to put it another way, I went into this novel expecting either a horror and/or dark comedy novel, but found myself reading something that could easily rival Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” or Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality”, and that sheer level of quality is something that doesn’t appear all too often.
If I had to give this novel a rating out of five, it would get a solid five.