A quick google search describes Saskia’s latest book, How It Ends, as ‘a sweeping and turbulent drama about the anxieties of post-war Britain, where one strong and inspirational young woman looks to find her place, no matter the cost…’
I’ve never really been a fan of books set against the backdrop of war. It might be that I know the story is going to be heart breaking so it’s probably not the best subject matter to read while on my daily train commute into work, or maybe I am still scarred by the Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Regardless of this, I can’t resist a story about a strong woman.
Saskia’s novel was recently shortlisted for the East Anglian Book Awards 2019 and ever since then it has been on my list of books to read. Now that I have read it, I completely understand why it was shortlisted. It is a haunting tale that I can’t stop thinking about.
Taking aspects of real life goings on during the war (I won’t say what aspects because I don’t want to ruin the plot twist) Saskia reimagines what life was like for the Delaney family. From the outside, they are your typical American white-picket-fence-family. Ruby and Todd seem to have a wonderful relationship and their twins Christopher and Hedy are bright and talented children. However, Christopher suffers from acute scoliosis and lives his life in a brace. This places a great strain on the family, but things take a turn for the worse when Todd’s work requires that he relocate to a military airforce base.
Saskia’s description of the base is brilliantly unnerving. The glimpses of strange people in the bushes and the sense of alienation made me feel very disturbed whilst I was reading. This feeling was emphasised by the narrative voice that seamlessly jumps from the perspective of one character to the next. Saskia writes in the present tense which keeps the reader in a constant state of anticipation. We are as clueless as Ruby, Hedy and Christopher as everything unfolds in real time. I found myself racing through the chapters looking for any indication that everything would turn out fine. Obviously, I was denied any sense of consolation, but that only encouraged me to keep reading. Gradually, by piecing together the different perspectives, we realise that there is something horrific going on, and like a car crash, I couldn’t look away.
What gives this novel the edge is Christopher’s physical condition. It was an incredibly imaginative and clever authorial decision. Christopher is bullied and shunned for his behaviour. Naturally, we start to feel sorry for him. He is so vulnerable in an already terrifying war situation that you just know something awful is going to happen. Yet this is magnified by the restrictions on his mobility. I’ve never felt such terror for a fictional character, and although it makes for a disturbing read, I can only admire Saskia for coming up with the scoliosis plotline in the first place. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but there is one particular scene that is so shocking that it is unlike anything I have ever read, or ever want to read again.
Saskia’s writing has completely changed my opinion on war-based novels, and the next one I read has a lot to live up to. I can’t recommend that you read How It Ends enough.
Buy it here.