The World of the End
By Ofir Touche Gafla
Tor Books June 2013
From the library
Ben Mendelssohn is used to thinking about endings. He works as an epilogist, crafting the perfect endings for stories. But when his beloved wife Marian dies in an accident, Ben finds an ending that he cannot bear. Instead of continuing to grieve, Ben decides to join his wife in the afterlife. He finds himself in the Other World, a place that defies every notion that he held about the afterlife. While acclimating to his new surroundings. Ben sets out to find Marian with the help of a quirky private investigator. Their search is more complicated than Ben ever imagined - does Marian not want to be found or is she not in the Other World at all?
This is the sort of book that you really have to pay attention to while reading. The narrative begins with Ben, but several other characters take over at various points. We also meet a reclusive pair of brothers, a slightly unhinged nurse, and a couple who meet online as fans of an author. As with many dual narratives, we are left waiting until the last moment to find the connections between these characters.
The World of the End raises a lot of interesting questions about life and death. How do we deal with losing someone we love? What is there after death? Is everyone happy after they die and what kind of existence will we have? In this version of the afterlife, there are a lot of rules and a lot of surprises. To start with, Ben discovers that everyone is naked. Each person is assigned an apartment based on the date and time they died and everyone communicates via godgets around their necks. A video of your entire life is provided, so that the residents of the Other World can relive the best (or worst) moments whenever they wish.
At first glance, this story sounds sort of familiar but Gafla has done some very inventive things in his tale of life after death. While the intertwining storylines could be confusing. I was very interested by the ways that the characters and events connected. At its heart, though, this is a love story. Ben is relentless in his quest to find his wife, regardless of the consequences. While there were many twists and detours on his journey to find Marian, the ending felt somewhat trite and predictable to me.
This book was published almost a decade ago in Israel, but it is just now available to those of us reading in English. While it deals with serious issues, it always examines them through the lenses of grace and humor. The World of the End is a meditation on life and death, a zany mystery, and a love story all wrapped up in one.