Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
The End of Everything was sold to me by my good friend Scarlett Parrish describing it as ‘Lolita as written by Ruth Rendell.’ I started reading it as a reward for reaching 10k on my novel today, and didn’t stop till I was finished. Yes, it’s one of those.
Ultimately, The End of Everything is a story about the period directly following the abduction of a young girl, as told by her best friend. Complete with the sort of details about the hazy, dazy world of childhood and pubescence that only the unsentimental remember, it feels utterly honest and true. From the descriptions of the early stages of sexual development, to the simple, romantic imaginings of girls of that age, everything fitted neatly into a slot I know and remember well.
The prose. Oh. The prose. It’s beautiful. It completely captures that childhood feeling – the feeling of endless days and a wider world that barely makes sense, the feeling of grasping your way through fog, occasionally coming across barely realised adult horrors. As the young girls discuss Evies abduction, the prurient, eager dissection of the horrors she’ll undergo feels real, and I remember similar horrified-ecstatic conversations, always going on. Always there.
As it goes on, The End of Everything becomes an excellent examinaton of how a precocious young girl can be persuaded into believing she wants the ‘love’ of an older peadophile.
Evie felt Mr. Shaw’s love, and what girl wouldn’t eventually sink into that love, its dreamy promise? He, a man three times her age who’s seen the world and known things and knows most that she is the most special girl of all? She is everything and he would tear down his life for her. He would tear it down because just one downward glance from her would heal him, save him. She has that power. What girl wouldn’t want that power? [...] “He told me it was like a piercing thing in his chest. One day, it just happened. He saw me and it happened, and after that there was nothing else. A hole in his chest like you could stick your finger in.” I feel a shudder right through me, quaking. I feel my thighs go loose and hot. Oh my, it’s a sickness. A sickness. I swoon into it. She is telling, she is finally telling. It’s like dipping your toe in a magical lake in some fairy tale.
Abbott, Megan (2011-08-19). The End of Everything (p. 186). Macmillan Publishers UK. Kindle Edition.
And it breaks that lie, the lie that Humbert Humbert of Lolita tells, that’s it’s love, that’s it’s OK, that’s it’s magic. It breaks it’s own enchantment open on itself with brutality to tell you there is no dreamy, hazy reality in which a Nymphet is truly a willing and active participant, that there is no world in which the ‘seduction’ of a thirteen year old girl by a forty year-old man is anything other than a gross defilement.
In this it is still Lolita, but where Lolita can fool the less aware reader, the person who cannot read between the lines, this spells it out. The story told in the end is Lolita if Dolores Haze had her say, stripping it all of the illusionary romance of it.
And then the ending comes, and it connects everything, while still leaving you in doubt, never giving way, never giving you an easy answer, and you come back into the world feeling strange, feeling changed. Disconnected. A new knowledge in your breast. This is the way good books work.