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.
Hi and welcome to FromBelgiumWithBookLove where I’ll be talking today about Clare Mackintosh’s new book baby. I’ve been a fan of Clare’s ever since I Let You Go, which, like Clare’s other books since, was an outstanding psychological thriller. With After the End, she goes down a different road, and frankly, one I most likely wouldn’t have joined her on if she were not the author I know her to be. Sometimes you pick up a book because you’re drawn to its premise, because the synopsis is right up your street; sometimes the premise is more like a side alley off your street but you pick up the book anyway, because you love the author’s writing and you have faith in the author’s ability to capture and hold your attention. The latter is exactly what I did and I didn’t regret it for a second.
After the End is the story of Dylan. He’s just a toddler, but he has a brain tumour and he is being treated for it in hospital. That fact alone broke my heart. There is just something so unfair about someone so small having to go through all that.
The first part of Dylan’s story is told from the perspective of his parents, alternating with the perspective of his doctor. It is really quite refreshing that the focus is not only on the desperate parents of this very ill little boy, but also on his doctor, who is just as desperate and equally powerless, especially when it turns out that the treatment is not working, on the contrary, the tumour has grown.
The pivotal moment in the story is when Pip and Max have to decide what to do: let their boy go and make sure he doesn’t have to suffer, or go to whichever lengths necessary to prolong his life, regardless of what kind of life that would be. I’m pretty sure that the toughest choice for a parent is whether to keep their child alive and quite possibly suffering, or to say goodbye earlier. As an outsider, my choice was pretty straightforward: stop the treatment, don’t have the surgery that will cause at least some brain damage, you can’t save your child, you’ll only postpone the inevitable and sure he’ll live a bit longer, maybe even a lot longer, but odds are that he’ll have to live with pain, he’ll never be independent, he’ll never be happy. To my mind, the choice to continue to fight a lost cause is a selfish one. But then I am not a parent, let alone one with a terminally ill child.
For the first time, Dylan’s parents don’t see eye to eye, and in the end, the case is brought before court and an impartial judge must decide. Here is a sliding doors moment where the story becomes two stories: one where the judge rules in favour of further treatment and one where the judge orders all treatment to be stopped, except palliative care. It was both fascinating and heart-breaking to see what happens in each story, with Dylan, and with his parents as a couple. I kept wondering if in the end they would end up in the exact same place, if there would be some kind of serendipity, is there such a thing as “meant to be”, are things written in the stars, is there any kind of providence.
A heartbreakingly beautiful, poignant and thought-provoking tale of love and loss, of guilt, of wanting to do the right thing and not knowing what that is, of life, of losing yourself and finding yourself, of failure and success and finding happiness in the little things, of living the worst possible thing that could happen and fighting through it, of finding a way to pick yourself up and piece yourself together again.
This is a story that makes you ask yourself what you would do, whether you’re a Pip or a Max. The fact that the author has lived through a similar loss, which I knew about before reading After the End, added an extra layer to my reading experience, and made it even more heart-breaking and poignant.
After the End is out on 25 June.
Many thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the free e-copy. All opinions are my own and I was not paid to give them.