Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (2011)

The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Megan Abbott really hit this one out of the park.

Blurb: A close-knit street, the clink of glass on glass, summer heat. Two girls on the brink of adolescence, throwing cartwheels on the grass. Two girls who tell each other everything. Until one shimmering afternoon, one of them disappears. Lizzie is left with her dread and her loss, and with a fear that won’t let her be. Had Evie tried to give her a hint of what was coming, a clue that she failed to follow?

Caught between her imaginary guilt, her sense of betrayal, her own powerful need, and the needs of the adults around her, Lizzie’s voice is as unforgettable as her story is arresting.

Thoughts: Everyone's favourite noir pixie takes a step out of her comfort zone with this fantastic contemporary novel. As an award winning afficionado of classic noir tropes, utilised to great effect in period pieces Die a Little, Queenpin and others, Megan Abbott demonstrated her writing style to great effect but with The End of Everything she has taken further leaps towards greatness.

No longer confined by her research in to 50s Americana The End of Everything is a modern tale of lust, revenge, guilt, and my favourite four words; secrets, lies, passions and repressions, that takes it cues from the "social problem" greats of noir history such as Mildred Pierce. Evie, a thirteen year old girl goes missing and everything in the world of her best friend, Lizzie, is changed forever.

Told from the point of view of Lizzie this is not a straightforward read, it is dark and disturbing, it might make you feel icky and dirty, you'll be filled with an unnerving sense of dread because you are not a thirteen year old girl and everything in your bones tells you that this girl is hopelessly wrong and nothing good can ever come of any of her actions.
"...for most 13-year-old girls, life is “noir.” It’s all sex and terror and longing and confusion. Everything feels big and frightening and thrilling. The stakes feel dramatically high and everything feels precarious — it’s a time of heightened everything." - Megan Abbott

This book has drawn comparisons to The Lovely Bones all over the place but I warn you Megan Abbott is not in this game to provide catharsis, she wants to twist your insides in to knots and steal your breath away, this is no easy ride and if you're not questioning yourself and your reaction to the words, the phrases, the tone, the rhythm then you're doing it wrong and I suggest something a little more surface, a little less feeling for your reading from this point on, a little more conventional perhaps.

Abbott wants you to be in Lizzie's world, her usual prose style is heightened to encourage this, from the opening pages you get a real sense of it thanks to wonderful descriptions of sights, sounds, sensations, memories;
"...voices pitchy, giddy, raving, we are all chanting that deathly chant that twists, knifelike, in the ear of the appointed victim." - p1

"...he's the one always vibrating in my chest, under my fingernails, in all kinds of places. There's much to say of him and my mouth can't manage it, even now. He hums there still. p4"

and once you're there Abbott takes you for all she can, you're vulnerable to suggestion now, weak, your defences down and she pulls no punches to the very last; just when you think you've taken all the hits you can another one buries itself deep in your gut as you marvel at the power of the author to make you feel this way without resorting to tired old genre cliche, the literary equivalent of soaring emotive music or removing all forms of doubt and hitting you with a sledgehammer or emotive phrases.

Even now, a day later, my heart is pounding at the thoughts of what I've just read, just experienced and I'm not sure if there's a single book out there that can follow this. After this I may have to retire from reading.

OK in the end I didn't but even so nothing has surpassed this book since the day I wrote this review, and only the pleasure of reading True Grit came close to recapturing the feelings evoked by Ms Abbott.

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  1. Sounds deliciously unsettling. Adding it to my list.

  2. I hope you can find the time, her follow up is about contemporary cheerleaders which is too intriguing for words.