I’m going to give you fair warning.
Don’t even think about going near this book [or perhaps even this blog post] if you have a weak stomach. If you can’t bring yourself to read graphic [and I mean graphic] depictions about any of the following, I would keep well clear: gay sex, pedophilia (including depictions of sex with twelve-year-olds), rape, murder, incest…the most taboo things you can think of, A. M. Homes’ The End of Alice has them all.
Narrated from the point of view of a pedophile in prison, who is serving a life sentence for killing a child, The End of Alice focuses on two things: 1. the correspondence between the prisoner (aka. Chappy) and a nineteen-year-old girl who has her eye on a younger boy and 2. the story of the prisoner’s life, particularly his relationship with his mother and his relationship with twelve-year-old ‘Alice’.
The general theme can be summed up in something like: evil meets everyday, but where does the line blur? However, it’s hard to know, as the short novel is narrated in first person, how much of the story we read is real and how much is exaggerated or influenced by our narrator’s time behind bars and his long life of solitude.
The Narrator, the prisoner, flits between describing his own life in prison, the life of his young correspondent and the story of how he ended up in prison. From his dark and grim life behind bars to the bright and disturbed world of a girl (not-yet-a-woman) who gets herself into something she perhaps then can’t get out of; from his messed up relationship with his mother to the details of how, when, where and why he met Alice and how their relationship developed and spun out of control, resulting in the narrator murdering her.
It’s easy, natural even, to sympathise with first person Narrators, but this narrator isn’t exactly the typical. He describes in such a matter-of-fact way the deeds he has done, and does in an auto-biographical kind of way; what you feel for him isn’t sympathy, it’s a connection, not the comfortable kind, but it’s there. The End of Alice received a lot of criticism in the US and UK, the NSPCC in the UK requested for the book to be taken down from the shelves (most bookshops denied this request.) People called it ‘vile’ and ‘repulsive’, they called it perverted and that it was a grotesque slap in the face to those who have suffered. But I don’t see that in this beautifully written, short novel.
What I see is honesty. Yes, some passages were very hard to read on the tube, wondering if the person next to me will look over and see ‘he inserted his whole fist’ or ‘his lips were stained with blood’ or some other passage about anal rape. But, if you can stomach it, I highly recommend The End of Alice. The last few chapters, which reveal his crimes in full, were written in a dazed sort of way, which makes you wonder, as I mentioned before, how much the narrator even knows to be true. And then the real mystery is what happens to him right at the end. I’ll leave it there.
This was one of the four books I got from the local library along with a book about running, an Agatha Christie and Pretties, which I still needed to finish. See, told you I’d stick to it.