Davina Bell, The End of the World is Bigger Than Love, Text Publishing, June 2020, 288 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781922268822
This tumultuous genre-bending novel defies expectations and challenges our world view. It builds layers through flashbacks and continuously cycles and spirals in form and narration. It’s difficult to talk about without spoiling what happens. What I can do, however, is talk about its pace and the way it balances several universal themes with a nuance and delicacy I’ve rarely seen. Ultimately, it’s not important what conclusions are drawn by the end of the story (and it’s quite possible to decide it’s impossible to even do that), so much as the impact and emotions it leaves on and with us.
The novel alternates between the viewpoints of siblings, Summer and Winter, who appear to be living alone on an island in a post-apocalyptic world. Summer’s narrative rambles breathlessly. Her literary references, her blind self-belief, and her fascination with seemingly trivial matters easily distracts us from what she isn’t saying. Winter appears more direct, more humane, more compassionate, yet it is Summer who deals with the practicality of their situation.
As we try to understand what’s real, we acknowledge the sisters’ stories diverge, and then we have to ask, who do we believe? The story moves at a fast pace, particularly under Summer’s very action oriented and incredibly lively hand. Edward appears and when we see both girls fall under his charming spell, we are set for a showdown. But of course, a book like this never conforms to expectation or predictability. It is part of the story’s cleverness that we never settle into a feeling of familiarity or ease. We constantly remain on edge, waiting for an explosive reveal. Actually, it’s more like a slow-burn realisation because generally, it’s what is not said that provides insight and shock.
The themes of the book are subtle and unexplained. Is the end of the world ultimately bigger than love? Of course not. This is a book about all kinds of love. The unconditional love for our family members, even when they annoy us. The love that develops for those who come into our lives, to challenge us unexpectedly. When we love unconditionally, then no matter the state of the world, we live fully, infinitely and without reservation. Love gives us the courage to face our demons, to tackle problems head-on, and to accept things we cannot change.
While the issues are sobering and current, the tone is vibrant and dynamic. It overwhelms us with its absurdity and chastises us about how we are failing our planet. It’s easy to feel manipulated with a book like this—self-assuredly clever, gloriously meta, and unapologetically ambiguous. But it’s also impossible to ignore the strength of Summer and Winter, the fragile sense of inevitability, and the exploration of the big ideas of our time.
Highly recommended for older teens and adults wanting a sophisticated read. It has been Notabled in the CBCA 2021 Book of the Year Awards for Older Readers.
Reviewed by Trish Buckley