Thursday, April 28, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: End of the World House by Adrienne Celt

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

End of the World House by Adrienne Celt is a quirky novel set in the near future, partly in Paris and partly on the U.S. West Coast. It is billed as reminiscent of Groundhog Day, using the structure of repeating or reliving a day with slight variations. Presumably, the character would eventually get something right that had been wrong in their life, and thus break from the loop. But it’s not clear that happens here.

Bertie is the protagonist. A late twenties or early thirties woman, her career as a graphic novelist has stalled. She works for a large tech firm as a sort of graphic designer. She doesn’t know what the company actually does, but she is very well paid and her job comes with perks (free food, after-work cocktail parties, health insurance). In the current economy, she is very fortunate and recognizes it, even if she feels her actual job is meaningless.

Bertie’s best friend is Kate. They’ve been friends since high school and have a complicated past. They bonded during the recent crazy years (representing the end of the world as they knew it.) However, Bertie is more attached to Kate than Kate is to Bertie. Rather obsessively so. Kate has decided to move to L.A. for a new job, and Bertie is both furious and devastated.

As a way to salve the pain, Kate agrees to a Paris vacation with Bertie.

The novel opens with the two on their way to the Louvre on a day that it is closed. They had met a man in a bar the previous night who, after flirting with Kate, promised to sneak them into the museum for a private experience. Here things go haywire. 

The museum is odd. They wander aimlessly through it. They are separated. Bertie panics. Then she wakes up in the hotel room with Kate and they start the day all over, with similar results.

The two are separated again. But instead of finding Kate, Bertie finds her old boyfriend. He is a stalker it seems, but he understands what’s going on and she doesn’t, so she falls in with him. They end up back in the U.S., living a semi-idyllic life as boyfriend and girlfriend. She has odd compulsions about an old friend she never sees anymore (Kate), and eventually pulls the boyfriend back to Paris.

The novel moves along pretty well. The plotting is clunky, but that is how it’s structured. The characters live superficial lives and are not, in themselves, very interesting or likeable. Even the friendship between Bertie and Kate doesn’t ring true, since they spend their short times together getting on one another’s nerves and apologizing passive-aggressively.

The true star in this novel, the thing that kept me reading, was the setting. The disturbing atmosphere captured the disconnected weirdness of a slow crawl to the end times. People know the world is falling apart yet strain for some semblance of normalcy. Looking at it from the outside is horrifying. Particularly because it is holding a mirror up to our current day.

Rather than a pandemic, there was a worldwide series of unexplained bombings. People hunkered down. They chose buddies for sheltering in place (like Covid pods.) Political upheavals, border closings, supply chain issues, gas rationing, the rich getting richer while the poor get left behind, living lives through social media, and the omnipresent evidence of climate change is all here. And people’s response (or lack of response) to it all is realistically, depressingly, portrayed.

Human interaction becomes very superficial. Best friends can be discarded, or maybe they were never all that close. It was easy for Bertie to become fragmented, for her reality to dissolve, because there was so little real there to begin with. The ending is not hopeful. Nor is it satisfyingly sad. It’s just unsettling.

No comments:

Post a Comment