Book Review: After the End by Clare Mackintosh

Book Review: After the End by Clare Mackintosh

Title: After the End

Author: Clare Mackintosh

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group Putnam

Publication Date: June 25, 2019

Genre: Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Summary: When their young son is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor, Max and Pip must make an impossible choice: seek further treatment that might extend his life or let him go. As they become further at odds with each other, and the world begins to tune in to their story, a decision is made, but what happens after the end is just the beginning of another journey for this young couple.

As a parent, especially that of young children, this book made me cry. I had to stop several times during the first half because reading through tears is impossible. The love that Max and Pip have for their son is overwhelming, but perfectly understandable, especially as their toddler is quickly losing a battle. It hurt my heart to read, but the strength Max and Pip showed together and separately made me keep reading.

The first half was heartbreakingly beautiful. It encompasses everything that happens before “the end.” Max and Pip are seen caring for their son while he’s in the hospital and then grappling with the decision the hospital is forcing on them about what to do about his future care. We’re given the story from Max’s and Pip’s points of view as well as their son’s doctor, Leila. It was a bit of a slow going as the only major events were Max and Pip in the hospital with their son and the trial to determine how care should proceed for their son. There wasn’t much action or movement; it felt more like a gradual buildup to what comes after “the end.”

The second half moved much quicker. It follows the events after the trial, detailing whether Max had won or if Pip had won, and told from their respective points of view. At first, it was a little confusing to follow with the alternating narratives and different timelines, but it became easier to follow, though I sometimes still had to remind myself of which person went where, and stopping in the middle of a chapter was a no-no for me because I then couldn’t remember whose narrative I was reading. There was a lot of overlap between the two stories, but they eventually took separate journeys that became easier to follow. It was intriguing to see how two different decisions could have so many similar features, like the introduction of the same people despite different trial outcomes, and still end differently. I suppose two choices from the same starting point with the same people will lead them on different journeys but still have enough similarities because it involves the same start point and same involved parties.

I really loved that this book never gave a definitive answer of what the court chose. Instead, it gave both Max and Pip the room to explore what their lives would be like if one or the other had won and still leaves the reader satisfied. This is great for any reader who ever wondered if a character’s different choice would have taken the story in a different direction. As strange as it was to read sometimes, it was oddly satisfying and I feel as though I don’t need to know what the real decision was, because I still got both stories and can decide for myself which path I favored and believe the court went with. It’s like Schrodinger’s cat: both beliefs that the cat is alive or dead are true until the chamber the cat is in is opened to reveal the truth. Unless we’re given the real decision, both paths could, and are, true.

What I didn’t like as much were how Leila and Max were characterized and how rushed the ending to Pip’s story was. Leila was portrayed as the professional, caring doctor, but she made key mistakes that she should not have. As someone who has worked in healthcare-related positions, I know patient privacy is of utmost importance, so Leila’s mistakes really bothered me. Max was also troublesome for me as he’s an American who moved to the U.K. for Pip. It’s explained that he’s been there so long that he’s become more British than American. I get that, but, when he returned to the States, he still felt overwhelmingly British, even after he’d been there for a long stretch of time. It was a little tough to get past and I would have appreciated seeing him return to his roots a little more. Lastly, Max’s story wrapped up really well, but Pip’s seemed to jump a bit and, while it mostly makes sense and there were hints, it feels like it was smacked in my face and I was left reeling a bit.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. A few things bothered me, but the story of a couple with a huge love for their son and each other was beautifully done. It’s both the story of a family struggling to remain intact and the story of two people traveling two different paths.

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How many cups of tea will you need?

4 should be just perfect, especially after you make it after the first part filled with heartbreaks.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and the publisher for a free copy. All opinions are my own.

For more of my book reviews, stop by the Bookshelf.

3 Comments

  • brookejcutler

    Omg. I was thinking about this again this morning. It’s my ‘can’t go there’ thing, the thought of my kids dying. You did SO well to get through this book, Kat. Life can be so raw. I suppose it is important to face the realities of it, however much they hurt, hey. xx

    • kat

      It’s not easy, but I think it’s an important thing to face when there’s so much uncertainty in life. Honestly, when I requested it from NetGalley the impossible choice piece was vague and I didn’t think it could have anything to do with a terminally ill child.

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