Published by Redhook on April 4th 2017
Our reviews of this author: The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories
Format: Finished hardcover
Claire North writes high concept fantastical thrillers and her latest The End of the Day is no different. This is a story about death. And Death. And the Harbinger of Death. For it is he, the latter, we follow on this adventure. Charlie is the latest Harbinger and this is his understanding of life and death and the world.
In North’s universe, the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse are very real, as are their Harbingers. People know and accept this. When Charlie introduces himself to the characters he meets, they ask him what the job’s like, in a very matter of fact way in some cases. People know but not all understand. We pick the story up not long after Charlie has been trained by the previous Harbinger. The whole operation is run out of an office in Milton Keynes – a functional town perfect for this kind of administration. Charlie, as he tells people throughout the novel, is sent before Death, sometimes as a warning, sometimes a courtesy. He visits an old woman who is the last to speak her language. He has a gift for her. He is then sent to find a professor on the Greenland ice sheet. There he meets the mysterious Patrick, who was invited to witness the end of a world. When an unexpected tragedy occurs, Charlie starts to wonder what his life means. He finds a girlfriend and they fall in love. But his job is an issue!
North’s style is a distinct as anyone you might read. She plays with sentence and paragraph structure. There are regular chapters of unattributed dialogue, often on a theme or an idea. These might be Charlie flicking through TV channels in hotels around the world, or maybe snippets that Death hears as she/he (everyone sees Death differently) ghosts by. Charlie visits some of the world’s bleakest places – war zones and the lives of the deprived and oppressed. He explains that it is sometimes not the physical death he walks ahead of. So when he turns up at social housing due to be torn down, it is the death of something else he foreshadows.
Charlie is a terrific character. Very humane. He got the job because he likes people. Simple as that. He has a great work ethic and a genuine belief in what he is doing is the right thing. He has to deal with some proper horror too. He meets the worst of humanity – people who want to bully or bargain with Death for example. North asks a lot of questions about what is wrong with the world, and how people live and die (such as the classic “why do good men die”), but doesn’t give many answers (death is not justice nor logic); only Charlie’s compassionate opinion. Although there is a section towards the end when Charlie gives all the expected answers such as cancer, accidents, fate, and such like. She peppers the books with fragments of ordinary lives and shows how important they are. The only thing that lets The End of the Day down is lack of a over-riding plot. As a character study it is fine, but there are mysteries that seem to be there just for the sake of being mysterious, and the whole book is a series of travelogues, tied together by Charlie’s developing relationship with his new girlfriend.
Sometimes brutal in places, but always honest, The End of the Day is perhaps North’s most thought-provoking and engaging book to date. Her vast imagination, how she draws her characters and the ideas she throws at a story are admirable. Her prose and characters are intriguing and not that common in genre fiction. There is plenty to enjoy in this novel. If you want to think about life and death and enjoy a good character study, The End of the Day is for you.