Mania Grade: C-
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- Author(s): Ofir Touché Gafla, translated by Mitch Ginsburg
- Publisher: Tor/Forge
- Genre: Urban Detective Fiction
- Format: Hardback, 368 pages
Book Review: The World of the End
A turn off
By Chuck Francisco
August 27, 2013
Have you ever consumed media which was of obvious quality or value, but which simply did not land in your wheelhouse? Such was my affliction with The World of the End, a novel first arriving on the scene in 2004, but which has only been released in English this past month. A creative work, packed full of imaginative language designed to ensnare the frontal cortex, The World of the End follows distraught epilogist Ben, whose job it is to finish or fix those with poor endings. His compulsion to construct the correct end for every story don't stop with the fictitious page, extending to his own tragic life. When his wife is suddenly taken from him, Ben ceremoniously ends his own life to find her. But the world beyond this one is not exactly what Ben expects, and finding the love of his life soon proves nearly impossible. Leads turn up cold even with the help of an afterlife detective, and Ben may have to face the possibility that his wife may still be alive after all.
With all the solid hallmarks of classic mystery whodunits, The World of the End weaves an interconnected tale where even the most trivial nuances are called back before the end to pay off. Yet for all the promise of this fascinating premise, I found that the novel frequently became mired in a number of boggy problems. The most glaring difficulty is that none of the characters among this focus shifting narrative are likable, and some of those whom we are asked to ride along with are downright detestable. This creates a paradoxical situation where readers desperately crave more details about this fantastical setting, yet are reticent to view it through these character's eyes. As our gateway into the narrative, the characters need to be relatable on some level, yet chapters frequently attempt to engage us with people who are so dysfunctional as to be beyond our sympathy.
A nihilistic edge cuts to the heart of the novel, routinely setting both this world and the next as mired among bureaucratic doldrums; wasted and meaningless. Fans of Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk will ease into The World of the End like a well worn armchair at their favorite coffeehouse, finding it at once familiar, yet retaining a more cushy stuffing profile. There's very much a core audience for this brand of blunt cynicism, especially when it's bound up into beautifully verbose language with electric phrases which turn their way eloquently off the page to assault your linguistic centrifuge.
While the imagery is compelling, there is a modest entry barrier in becoming accustomed to the narrative flow, since English isn't its native state. Some stiff cultural adaptation will stymie readers, slowing their first few chapters to a crawl as they shift into the slightly alien prose structure. Sadly once at the well, the water isn't as sweet as the premise alludes, fizzling out or frustrating before it gains the chance to rock readers in their comfort zone. For a yarn spun about an epilogist, whose life's work dealt with dishing out amazing endings, The World of the End serves up a massively mediocre miss with an all around unsatisfying conclusion.
Clearly this book wasn't an enjoyably experience for me, yet I can glean some worth within it still, and there is a niche for this sort of miserable realism which suckles from the teat of cynicism. If you have a veracious appetite for unique afterlife scenarios, or you're hankering for a sardonic whodunit, The World of the End will likely serve you well. For everyone else, its hard cynicism will likely be a bitter pill.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.