The End of the Day by Claire North
I have to admit, this one wasn’t what I expected. I’ve really enjoyed a few of Claire North’s novels. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was brilliant and Touch was an interesting read, too. The End of the Day kind of threw me. For some reason, after reading the blurb, I had it in my head that it would be similar to the kinds of things Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman have written. Not the humour (because really, Pratchett and Gaiman are in a league of their own) so much as the anthropomorphism of ideas such as Death and War. From Pratchett’s human loving skeletal Death with the glowing eyes from his Discworld books to Gaiman’s sassy Death in his Sandman graphic novels, there’s something strangely appealing to the humanisation of Death. Then there’s the combined power house that is Good Omens, where an average man ends up with a job that inadvertently saves the world while rubbing shoulders with Death, his harbingers and the Antichrist. So I had all this in mind when I read the blurb for the End of Day.
- Charlie has a new job. He gets to travel, and he meets interesting people, some of whom are actually pleased to see him. It’s good to have a friendly face, you see. At the end. But the end of all things is coming. Charlie’s boss and his three associates are riding out, and it’s Charlie’s job to go before. Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.
It sounds pretty cool, especially having Death as a boss. So I made the mistake of going into this book with a preconceived idea of what was going to happen.
I love the idea of Death, War, Famine, and Pestilence each employing a mortal harbinger that rocks up before an event to either warn or honour a person, a concept or a thing. This employment has the usual interview process, employee benefits, and a mentoring program, and yet Charlie’s work is anything but ordinary. The balance of the mundane (collecting travel receipts) to the bizarre (giving a poet in a war torn country a pen that’s run out of ink) gives the story its charm.
Also, it’s the most experimental of North’s novels that I’ve read. North likes to play around with the structure of stories. In the First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, there’s the repetition of events as Harry lives, dies and then relives the same life over and over again. In the End of the Day, the structure is less bound by the experiences of Charlie, and more controlled by the themes the novel explores. Charlie becomes just a tool to express global issues - climate change, war, racism, sexism, feminism, ageism, homelessness - and the brief snippets of people’s thoughts/dialogue at the start of each chapter, while introducing the new theme, was initially a little jarring.
It did take me a while to get into this book, but I do my best to finish most books I read, so I stuck with it. It wasn’t what I expected, but I must admit that the novel gave me a lot to think about and it jump started quite a few dinner conversations.