The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells

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I’m not quite sure when The End of Loneliness came onto my radar, but I read “Jules Moreau’s childhood is shattered after the sudden death of his parents. Enrolled in boarding school…” and immediately added it to the to-be-read list. I then saw it was available on Netgalley so quickly requested it. This is also the first Netgalley title I’ve read for my personally set Netgalley Challenge for 2019, and if all of them are this good, I’ve chosen wisely, and I should have some great reading experiences this year!

The End of Loneliness is about how the death of Marty, Liz and Jules’ parents at their young ages impacted each of their lives, and we are taken on this journey with them from boarding school to adulthood. While the story is told by Jules – the youngest – we come to know each of the siblings and their individual struggles as they come-of-age following their parent’s death. Sadly, once they are taken to the boarding school, they grow distant to each other, are rarely around to help each other out and infrequently see each other as they age.

Although this can be seen as the story of all three, Jules is really the main character and it is through his perspective we listen to their stories and also where we feel this theme of loneliness that follows him, changes him, alters his personality. Jules can never settle, is a daydreamer, living always in the past. He’s present but just barely. A constant person in his life is Alva, his only friend, but for Jules he was always wishing and pining for something more. Alva however is often as distant as much as his siblings are with him. She comes and goes in his life but his longing for her is constant. (The ending of their story together is a very sad one.)

Marty grabbed my shoulder. “You have to finally forget the past. Do you know how many people had it worse then we did? Your childhood, our parent’s death, are not your fault. What is your fault is what these things are doing to you. You alone are responsible for yourself and your life. And if you just do what you’ve always done, you’ll just get what you you’ve always got.”

For Jules’ siblings, they are never able to achieve a high level of happiness in their lives either. Liz is another where pervasive loneliness is a part of her life – she keeps herself purposely distant from everyone however. She lives a promiscuous lifestyle and descends deep into a life of hard drugs. Marty remains aloof and superior to his siblings, and while he becomes very successful he is not without his uncontrollable obsessive compulsive behaviours. They remain awkward and distant with each other every time they meet.

At dinner the conversation didn’t really flow, and eventually we stopped talking all together. I thought of the loud, cheerful dinners of our childhood when my brother and sister would argue, or we’d all laugh together about something that had happened. And now here we were, sitting at the table like three actors meeting again after a long time who can no longer remember the script of their famous play.

(Quotes taken from the uncorrected PDF proof provided by Penguin Books/Netgalley)

The End of Loneliness is written using this fragmented style. We read the thoughts that flit through Jules’ mind and this theme of loneliness is ever-present. Jules is an exceptionally lonely figure. So, at times, yes, there is a melancholic tone, but this thread of loneliness is so well written throughout. While it centres on Jules, you also see how loneliness deeply affects Marty and Liz as well.

There are quite a few book references inside that may put a smile on your face however, therefore making the reading experience not such an overwhelmingly sad one. Alva’s favourite book is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, and it is mentioned often throughout. Alva is always trying to get Jules to read it and it’s a question if he has that comes up every time they meet up with each other. There is also a description written where someone is described as having “intense Paul Auster eyes”. There are other books or bookish mentions scattered throughout as well.

Overall, I quite liked this one. The writing is definitely a strength, as is the character development. The ending is a very satisfying one. Sad, still, yes, but still so very good. And, sometimes the translation was a little bit “off”, but it didn’t happen so frequently that it became a serious distraction. There were just a few moments where you could tell it’s a translated work. A minor quibble, really. What was a major quibble however, is the challenge of reading a PDF document on an e-reader, or in this case a reading app on my tablet. Disjointed words, many, many instances of where words are hyphenated in mid-sentence, places where there would be no need for a hyphen and sentence breaks happening all over the place. It only confirmed my great dislike for reading a PDF file. It was quite a distraction, but I was willing to continue reading since it was such a good book.