The novel succeeds in its aim of observing, quietly, the ways in which the past can derail the present, and how it can be laid to rest. Whatever life has dealt Clegg, it has made him a wise writer.
The novel asks what binds people together, but mostly interrogates what tears them apart. Friendship is a “made mist that looked like matter”; Hap’s family “an elaborately painted mural”. Class is a dominant force: the Gosses’ existence is one in which “the rules and interpersonal dynamics were pre-determined”. Lupita’s father, their chauffeur, struggles in “a world where he was, if not invisible, translucent enough that people looked through him”. Clegg’s unspooling of the central mystery is masterful – its contours hinted at but its nucleus unexpected.
The End of the Day is really about a series of misunderstandings and how they blight the lives of the misunderstood, their children, friends and families. As the novel jumps back and forth between the early 1970s and the present, various sad consequences of past errors are revealed. And in its pacey final chapters The End of the Day becomes an exercise in human archaeology: the more ground the author digs up, the more his characters’ traumas and dysfunctions are revealed. Although the findings are not particularly heartening, Clegg directs the excavation ably, with his memorable expressions, low-key dialogue and easy juggling of time frames. It’s an arresting and impressive second effort.