The End of the Day by Claire North
Charlie meets everyone – but only once.
You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident.
Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – Charlie gets everywhere.
Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. Either way, this is going to be the most important meeting of your life.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, eventually we all have to confront the concept of death. You could be a pragmatist, happy to accept that moving from life to death is merely the transfer of energy from one form to another. You could be deeply devout, believing in an all-encompassing deity who will lead you into a far better afterlife. The choice is ultimately your own. The one thing that makes us all the same, accepting that with life comes death. Claire North’s latest is an exploration of what makes us tick and what happens when the ticking finally stops.
Charlie is a truly fascinating character. The Harbinger of Death isn’t the job he ever expected to be doing, but he finds that it fits him well. He gets to travel, meet interesting people and celebrate the complexity of life. To be clear, he isn’t death. Charlie is what comes before, he is a courtesy or sometimes a warning. The other important distinction that needs to be highlighted is that death doesn’t have to mean the end of a life, it can also mean the end of an idea. Charlie is the mirror that allows us to view our own humanity in all its chaotic glory. Everyone reacts to Charlie’s appearance in different ways. Some shun him upon arrival, unwilling to hear anything he has to say, while others welcome him with open arms. Various governmental authorities have a particularly difficult time trying to classify this man and his role in the world. They can try to impede or stop Charlie doing his job, but they can’t do the same to death.
There is an episodic air to events as the reader follows Charlie going about his business. To an outsider some of the meetings may appear to be nonsensical, but they perfectly illustrate how intimate and personal a life and a death actually are. Some of my favourite moments include Charlie on a Wim Wenders-esque road trip with a man called Robinson, Charlie’s touching relationship with Emmi and his epic run in with the powers that be. Dotted throughout the narrative there are snippets of random conversations. Not only do they reinforce the transitory nature of existence, but also pick apart the current zeitgeist. Anyone who follows has a passing interest in world events will undoubtedly pick up on this. I’ll admit there is a part of me that hopes each of these little pronouncements are one hundred percent genuine things that the author has overheard herself at some point. We are social creatures and these nuggets of information pulled from other people’s lives reminds us of this. We’re all just a collection of experiences after all.
The End of the Day is a subtle, poignant piece of writing and I have been saving a soundtrack recommendation for just such an occasion. Les Revenants by Mogwai, that was used as the soundtrack to the French television drama of the same name, fits beautifully. I listened to this repeatedly while reading the book and it feels as though they were made for one another.
North has crafted an utterly compelling read. Through Charlie’s travels she unpicks the human condition as it exists in the 21st century. All human life is here and it is frankly amazing how many thought provoking insights the author has managed to cram into the narrative. The plot is so cleverly constructed that it never feels overlong or bloated. It’s only when you come to the final page do you realise how much metaphysical ground has been covered. This is the sort of book I need to talk to other people about. I have a burning desire to know other people’s opinions. Different readers are going to take different interpretations away from this text and there will be some that loath that level of ambiguity. Personally, I loved every second of it. Death appears to everyone in a different form, so is it not possible that there are differing ways to interpret the plot? Irrespective of how you choose to read this book, there are so many well executed moments they will all demand your complete attention. There are scenes of pure tragedy followed by flashes of unadulterated joy. I’ve always thought that capturing genuine emotion in writing is the hardest of tasks, but Claire North makes it all look so effortlessly easy.
You may not have guessed this but I’m a little awe struck by The End of the Day. This is sublime, beautifully affecting fiction. I have to admit I took my time savouring this novel. I wanted to relish every single page. I’d imagine this is the sort of book that people are going to want to talk to others about. At first glance it could be dismissed as just a modern genre fantasy but it is so much more. There is an introspective quality to Charlie that forces the reader to examining their own preconceived notions and prejudices regarding just about everything. Read this book as soon as soon as is humanly possible. You can thank me later.
The End of the Day is published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended.