“Over the last few months we have learned that hope is like a see-saw balanced by despair; too quickly tipped from one to the other”

When Max and Pip are faced with a choice no parent should ever have to make, their marriage and their lives fall into complete disrepair. Can they recover from the decision they have made? Is their marriage strong enough to survive it? And what really happens after the end?

Though desperately heartbreaking, there was a real sense of hope running throughout this book. The first half of the story focuses on ‘before’, with the narrative centering on the impossible decision Max and Pip are faced with after their two year old son Dylan is diagnosed with cancer. It was an impossibly heavy read, but I thought that Mackintosh handled such a sensitive issue incredibly well, delving into the complexities of the issue at hand and representing both Max and Pip’s differing sides of the argument with respect.

The second half of the book focuses on “after”, exploring the fallout from the decision they make with a complex dual narrative. The chapters alternate between Max and Pip, and each of their perspectives show what is almost a parallel universe; one in which Dylan passes away at the age of six, and one where he passes away just before his third birthday. Both equally heartbreaking, bringing with them their own individual problems.

I have to admit I did find the second half of the book a bit of a struggle, but not because of the content. My main issue was that it was little tricky to keep track of which “universe” I was in, and so the two storylines became somewhat tangled in my brain. It took a bit of effort to decipher what was happening at points, and reading it certainly required more concentration than the first half of the book did.

Ultimately what saved the second half of the book for me was the sense of hope for a brighter future ahead for both Max and Pip. Whilst it is impossible to move on from something as tragic as what they went through, both dealt with it in their own way and it was a really interesting journey to follow them on.

After the End was so unlike the other books I’ve read by Clare Mackintosh. I usually love her thrillers and I am both bewildered and hugely impressed by how adaptable of an author she is. She has certainly made it to my auto-buy author list and I can’t wait to read more of her work in the future.

Trigger warnings: Cancer, death of a child, depression, divorce, separation, some homophobic / racist remarks

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