Book Review: The End by Gary McMahon

“The End is further proof that McMahon is approaching the top of his game as a writer.”

the endGary McMahon’s  latest novel The End is an apocalyptic thriller, which documents a bizarre suicide plague as it strikes London and takes a grip on the nation’s capital. The story centres on Mac Booth and his small group of survivors who are travelling north to check on their families in the wake of the epidemic.

Horror fiction is awash with post-apocalyptic fiction, be it zombies or plagues or nuclear disasters, so much so that only the strongest writing and imaginative ideas will stand out. McMahon serves up a wonderfully bleak piece of fiction that not only pays its dues to other books within the subgenre but is also powerful enough to transcend these influences.

Mac Booth is on a business trip to London with a colleague when the initial outbreak of the suicide plague occurs. London quickly descends into anarchy with bodies cluttering the gutters, authorities being overrun in the panic, and no one being able to tell who will be afflicted next. The chaos of those scenes is reminiscent of the impact of the opening of Cell by Stephen King, in which the inevitable confusion and pace of the situation is forced upon the reader.

The End is a well-paced book as a whole; McMahon manages to not only build but also maintain tension throughout the story without any superfluous scenes tacked on that detract from the overall speed of the narrative. McMahon has maintained his recent run of streamlined and direct novels that demonstrate a more compact and considered writing approach. The End is further proof that McMahon is approaching the top of his game as a writer, despite not being as prolific as he has been in the past.

The End is McMahon’s most action packed novel to date and shows that in addition to the quiet horror of The Bones of You, he has other strings to his bow. The violence here is detailed in its depiction without ever being gratuitous. McMahon also delivers a sinister set piece; the opening scene of the book sets the tone as two women throw themselves casually into traffic on a busy motorway.

Despite the strengths of the book, The End does still suffer slightly from underdeveloped supporting characters. Whilst this can be difficult to achieve when writing from a first person perspective, it was difficult to feel moved when a couple of supporting characters met their inevitable grisly fate. The same can also be said for the villain of the piece, Doctor Thwaites, who despite his penchant for ridiculous outfits, is a largely by-the numbers villain. Whilst he served his purpose in the story, Thwaites is simply not menacing, violent or cunning enough to leave any discernible mark upon the story itself.

That said, it is important to note that the central relationship between Mac and his wife is masterfully realised, with McMahon translating the worries and frustrations of a man separated from his wife as the world ends around them both exceptionally well.

The End is a beautifully written and highly poignant piece of work. Its approach varies from sledgehammer to silent assassin, yet the effect that it causes on the reader is consistently powerful. The End builds at considerable pace before delivering one of the most emotive and poetically portrayed endings in recent horror fiction. Some elements of the story may be very familiar to fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, yet the strength of character and quality of the writing surpasses any tropes and delivers one hell of a ride. The End is as effective as anything McMahon has produced in terms of emotional punch, and the climax of this book is no exception. McMahon’s words hit so hard they will leave the reader hoping for the end of the world.

DAN HOWARTH

Publisher: NewCon Press
Paperback (194pp)
Release date: 15 September 2014

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1 comment

  1. I loved this book, the ending actually brought a tear to my eye.

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