It’s the year 2035 and fiction has been banned by the government for five years. Writing novels is a crime. Reading fairytales to children is punishable by law.
Fern Dostoy is a criminal. Officially, she has retrained in a new job outside of the arts but she still scrawls in a secret notepad in an effort to capture what her life has become: her work on a banned phone line, reading bedtime stories to sleep-starved children; Hunter, the young boy who calls her and has captured her heart; and the dreaded visits from government officials.
But as Fern begins to learn more about Hunter, doubts begin to surface. What are they both hiding? And who can be trusted?
Hi and welcome to my review of End of Story!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
And indeed it does, or rather: a Louise Beech writing as a Louise Swanson writes as beautiful a book… and can still make me cry. Oh yes, rest assured, there are still certainties in this life.
I’m quite the horror fan but End of Story is more terrifying than any horror novel I’ve read (and I’m not even talking about the fingers thing or the re-education centres): the year is 2035 and fiction has been banned. Reading fiction is a crime and there is only one bookstore chain left, selling only non-fiction (gasp!). Now, in recent years I’ve become quite fond of non-fiction, but a world without made-up stories?! Now there’s a horrifying thought!
For the most part, the story is told from the perspective of Fern in the form of a diary. Fern used to be a published author but her books have become illegal, as well as her writing new ones. But blood is thicker than water, and so is the urge to write. And so, in the privacy of her home, curtains closed, she scribbles on a notepad about this sad new world and how we got there.
Being a former writer, Fern is monitored closely and gets regular visits from a duo of government agents who’d give Mr Smith from The Matrix a run for his money. Creepy dudes! In a rather creepy world to boot. In tone, End of Story reminded me of The Memory Police, astonishing things happening and people seemingly just going along with it, believing they have no other choice. What I hated about The Memory Police though, was never quite finding out what was going on. Fortunately, that is not the case with End of Story.
There were a couple of things that drove me mad because I wanted to figure them out and I couldn’t. Like what is Fern’s problem with curdled milk? Sure, it’s unpleasant, but her behaviour is more off than her milk. And what of the blue and white trainer with the bloody speck that keeps popping up and disappearing again? And what about the boy who keeps calling her on a phone he couldn’t possibly call?
As the story progresses, I had to suspend disbelief a couple of times, thinking certain developments a little too much over the top. You might feel the same way if and when you pick up End of Story, but I’m here to tell you that if you do: stick with it! It will all make sense in the end, I promise! And then you’ll cry. But that’s okay, you’ll be fine!
At a certain point, I had this inkling, this sinking feeling, that I really REALLY hoped would be wrong. I didn’t figure out the whole thing but I turned out to be right about that one thing. And it was absolutely devastating. That’s how much I cared. After all, if you tell a story well enough, it’s true.
End of Story is a brilliant, multi-layered, genre-defying pitch-perfect story that I already wish I could read for the first time again. It is glorious and rich and sumptuous, seriously, if it were a cake, it would have a billion calories. Whatever this author writes next, under whatever name, this reader will be waiting. With chocolates and tissues and a cat to cuddle through the tears. Highly recommended.
End of Story will be out in hardcover, digital formats and audio on 23 March.
Massive thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.