Published: 25th June 2019
Reviewed: 19th July 2019
Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. Only now they’re facing the most important decision of their lives – and they don’t agree.
As the consequences of an impossible choice threaten to devastate them both, nothing will ever be the same again.
But anything can happen after the end . . .
I knew this book was different to the author’s usual genre, and after reading the author’s note (I always read these before the book) I also realised it would be a heart-wrenching story. What I wasn’t prepared for was putting everything on hold as I found myself gripped for hours on end as the characters worked their way into my heart.
Split into two parts, part one has a triple narrative that draws the reader into the shoes of Pip, Max, and Leila. Pip and Max are a happily married couple whose lives are turned upside down when their two-year-old son, Dylan, is diagnosed with a brain tumour; Leila is Dylan’s paediatric neurologist. As the main bread earner, Max juggles his demanding career (and unforgiving wanker of a boss), whilst Pip gives up her job to spend every waking moment at Dylan’s bedside. Geographically the couple are miles apart for the best part of the week, but the bond between them is stronger than ever as they hold each other together, willing their boy to get well. As well as Pip and Max both having their own voice through first-person narratives, we also see how they are perceived from the outside world through the limited third-person perspective of Leila. Leila is a well-drawn out character where we also see how the everyday strain of working as a doctor for the NHS impacts on her life and relationships as a young woman.
But when Dylan’s condition takes a turn for the worse, Pip and Max’s relationship is put to the test when they have different ideas of what the best treatment options are for their son, and when the couple aren’t able to agree, the hospital steps in and takes the case to court. With Pip, Max, and Leila, each having individual voices through their own designated chapters, this allows the reader to empathise with their different perspectives: what it is like to be them and how they reach the decision they have regarding what is best for Dylan. Part one of the narrative ends as the judge gives his verdict.
With the world and his wife having a view on what the right decision should be, part two of the story is where the author really ups her game. Although a bit confusing at first, this part of the narrative has a sliding doors structure where the different outcome scenarios of the court-case are played out. It is these kind of stories where I do prefer a real book rather than an e-book, so I can flick back and work out what’s going on. Anyway, once I’d figured out that this was actually a sliding-doors structure, and that I wasn’t going mad, this made the story all the more compelling. During this part of the story, chapters alternate between the perspectives of Pip and Max, and there are different time periods as the cleverly structured plot, addresses the question as to whether one decision is any better than the other. It also makes you consider whether fate is a factor: no matter what route you take will you end up in the same place?
The story also explores the theme of unconditional love. Not just the love between Pip, Max, and Dylan; but maternal love between Max and his mother, Pip and her mother, Leila and her mother, Blair (no spoilers as to who she is!) and her children.
One of the first things I was taught as part of my English Literature and Creative Writing degree was to ‘write what you know’ in a fictionalised way, adding elements of ‘what if’. After the End by Clare Mackintosh is an absolute masterclass in this, and should be considered essential reading material for every serious creative writing student. I’ve long admired the work of Clare Mackintosh, her first book I Let You go, in particular, is one that years later has still stayed with me; After the End will be no exception.
As I said earlier, After the End is very different to the author’s usual style of writing, and this beautifully written narrative reminded me of Carol Mason, Kit de Waal, and Emma Cooper.
Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley
for an Advance Review Copy of this book
in return for an honest and unbiased review.
About the Author
With over 2 million copies of her books sold worldwide, number one bestseller Clare Mackintosh is multi-award-winning author of I Let You Go, which was a Sunday Times bestseller and the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer in 2015. It also won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2016. Both Clare’s second and third novels, I See You and Let Me Lie, were number one Sunday Times bestsellers. All three of her books were selected for the Richard & Judy Book Club, and together have been translated into over thirty-five languages. Clare is patron of the Silver Star Society, a charity based at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, which supports parents experiencing high-risk or difficult pregnancies. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.