Title: Not the End
Author: Kate Vane
Published: February 2014
Publisher: Self-published through Amazon
Length: Estimated 300 pages
Relationship to Author: None
Not the End is a novel of great ambition, one that takes on many characters and plots. The novel begins with Neil, a cemetery manager in Dormouth, the Devon seaside town, who is called in to examine the potential assets in the flat of recently deceased Maud Smith, an octogenarian who drowned in the nearby sea.
Maud is found by Brenda, a mother of two grown children (Paula and Robbie) who has recently separated from her husband Bob, though no one seems sure why or what is going on. Robbie lives at home but works in construction, helping along the newly-single Tony, also a builder who may or may not be in love with Robbie or Brenda. Paula is often in Brenda’s home because she fights with her boyfriend Callum, a chef who constantly works, which angers Paula. Elizabeth lives in a flat in the same building as Maud’s and was a friend to the woman.
Elizabeth is an artist, as was Maud, so they talked art. She also works in a knitting shop that Brenda has just started patronizing to calm her anxiety after finding Maud’s dead body. Enter Jim, who works for a company that finds living heirs to the estates of those who didn’t write a will, a job he laments because he went to college and got a PhD in ecology with a focus in birds. He meets Elizabeth during his investigations and falls in love with her. But Jim just can’t seem to shrug off that his boss, Roisin, might have feelings for him despite her upcoming nuptials with fiancée Melissa—and Roisin and Melissa are so different! Jim’s also got a schizophrenic twin named Edie who may be destroying his life with her neediness and reckless behavior.
Meanwhile, an art historian named Fraser believes that a deceased local painter named Hugh Bonnington must have kept a portrait he painted of Maud—who was Hugh’s lover for a time—that was rumored Hugh’s masterpiece that he destroyed. If only Fraser can find this painting he can finish the book he’s writing about Hugh, though Fraser knows he won’t get any money out of it, nor will it elevate him as an academic any further, so his motivation is a bit wobbly. Fraser speaks with Brenda, because she found Maud, and Elizabeth, because she knew Maud, and Olive, Hugh’s widower who lives off of Hugh’s Trust and seems to have answers everyone wants but Olive won’t share.
At the same time, forty-something Neil struggles with balancing his desire to live like he is twenty with the disappointment of his ex-wives, Lisa 1, mother of fifteen-year-old art student Martha, and Lisa 2, mother of four-year-old Tom. There’s also his pursuit of age-appropriate Charlotte and not age-appropriate artist/yarn store employee Elizabeth. Whew!
If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Kate Vane takes on a lot in Not the End—a lot-a lot. The three main characters who are supposed to be changed by Maud’s death, according to the Amazon synopsis, are Neil, Jim, and Brenda. Since the novel begins with Neil in Maud’s flat, one is led to believe that the focus will be on Maud or her burial or estate. Rather, readers bounce between Jim’s, Brenda’s, and Neil’s perspectives (and some chapters are from the perspectives of others, like Fraser’s short moment in the sea), and though Vane creates whole little worlds for each, keeping all of their motivations straight is difficult because each of these three main characters bring in additional characters. Jim’s co-worker Bert is a man who diligently takes dump at the same time each morning at work (a funny detail!) only for Bert to be referenced one more time about 150 pages later. Teri, who also works with Jim, is a woman who wants every man to worship her despite her husband being deployed (also funny: Teri nearly kills herself by getting her hair too close to the paper shredder). The connection to Brenda finding Maud’s body is interesting, but the story of Brenda doesn’t seem as if it were meant to be connected to Maud; Brenda’s focus is Robbie, Paula, Callum, Bob, Tony, her dog Prince, etc.
The last pages of the novel, focusing on Roisin’s and Melissa’s wedding, feels far removed from Maud’s death. If it is “not the end,” I have to ask who “ended” and why is it not his/her “end”? The plotlines (I can’t call them subplots because I’m not sure what the main thread is) are all highly interesting on their own, and I wish to read a novel-length project of each, but put in the same book made me feel discombobulated.