Clare Mackintosh: After The End
Published By: Sphere
Buy It: here
What The Blurb Says:
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.
What I Say:
As I sit writing my review, my husband is in the dining room as our dog sleeps in the hallway, and my thirteen year old is resentfully buried under a pile of biology homework in his bedroom. My seventeen year old son, is lost in a world of Thomas the Tank Engine and Paw Patrol on his laptop, happy to be home, anxious that tomorrow he has to help serve teas to the parents at his Sixth Form College. He has a chromosome disorder, global development delay and moderate learning difficulties. Our world has always been one of appointments and hospitals, battles and exhaustion, understanding that our life is not like everyone else’s, and that the things everyone else takes for granted are giant steps forward for us.
I am not telling you this for attention or pity, for you to tilt your head as if you understand, because unless you have lived it you really don’t. This is why After The End, Clare’s most intensely personal and emotional novel is just so pitch perfect in every way. Clare has lived it, breathed it and her family’s real life experience of life with a child with a critical illness is absolutely entrenched in every page of this novel, which makes it even more heartbreaking.
Pip and Max, are parents to Dylan, who is critically ill with a brain tumour. When they are asked to make a choice about what happens next by Leila, Dylan’s doctor, they both want what’s best for him, but unfortunately they have completely opposing views as to what that should be.
This novel is not only about what happens next and why, it is a story about what it means to be a parent, and how the love we have for our children can make us realise that the most heartbreaking decision is the most selfless one we can make. Pip and Max are bound together by their love for Dylan, but it is also the very thing that seeps into the cracks that are starting to form in their marriage, and takes them on a journey neither could have envisioned. Pip is the parent who stays with Dylan while Max commutes between here and America, and what is pertinent about this is that she absolutely understands every single thing that she has to do for herself and Dylan. While there is absolutely no doubt of the love Max has for his son, he does not understand the immense emotional and physical demands devoting yourself to your child brings. This is something that also frustrates Pip as she attempts to simply get through each day with her own needs and desires pushed to the bottom of the list.
Pip and Max have to decide what to do next for Dylan, and from that point on, we see the outcome of the two decisions. The novel moves between Pip and Max, and the realities of ‘After’ their choices. This is where After The End becomes so much more than a simple linear narrative, with a neat conclusion. As it weaves through the aftermath of their choices, we see how relationships break down and realign, it shows us the positivity and harm that social media can do, as assumptions are made, hashtags are created, and parents are vilified whatever they choose to do. Clare has also astutely highlighted how the press represents men and women, mothers and fathers, with different ways of writing headlines according to whether the subject is male or female, and what cultural background they are from. Lives are reduced to a quick soundbite and a fleeting appearance in an ever changing timeline of headlines, with the people behind the stories left to deal with the aftermath of press intrusion.
This is not however only Pip and Max’s story. We also learn about Leila, the Doctor who has told them the choices they must make. Far from being a peripheral figure who is nothing more than a plot device, Leila is a living and breathing part of the story. Her relationship with the parents does not end the minute she walks out of the consulting room, she is constantly haunted by the realities of what she has confronted them with, and is unwittingly drawn into their battle by simply talking to someone who is not what they seem. Clare shows us that in a situation like this, the ramifications of caring for and knowing a critically ill child impact far more people than just the parents.
When you write a novel that comes out of such a devastating and intense personal experience, it adds a new level of intensity and connection to the plot and the characters. From this standpoint, you are able to inform and educate and tell people what life for parents of a seriously ill child is really like. For me, some of the most powerful parts were not the major story points, it was the minutae of Pip and Max’s everyday life which were the most poignant- the worries about the best way to pay for the parking, the smells and sounds of the wards, and the endless hours when nothing changes but you can’t possibly be anywhere else apart from next to your child.
This novel is a very difficult one to review, firstly because I don’t want to give anything away, and I want you to read it, but secondly, because to try and tell you all about everything that is contained within its three hundred and seventy pages would never do it justice. It is a novel of life, of loss, of grief and pain, but also at its heart is two people, two parents, Max and Pippa, who are living a life they never could have imagined and for which there is no convenient ‘How To’ manual. Like all of us, they simply try to do the best they can and love their son.
Clare Mackintosh has written an intensely personal and truly remarkable novel, which not only deals with the day to day realities of being parents to a very sick child, but also unflinchingly holds up a mirror to us all and asks – when you are faced with the most heartbreaking decision, what would you do for your child?
After The End is a novel which I will never forget and will recommend endlessly. It is a devastating and yet life affirming story of love and hope, of two people who are united in their wish to only do the best for their son, whatever it means for their future and marriage.
I loved it.
Thank you so much to LoveReadingUK for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.