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Review: Where I End - Sophie White


Genre: Literary fiction, Horror

Published: Kensington Books, September 2024, Originally published by Tramp Press, October 2022

My Rating: 5/5 stars


“My mother. At night, my mother creaks. The house creaks along with her.”


This book may or may not have taken several years off my life with the sheer amount of stress and uncomfortable tension it caused me... It had me staring at a wall for a solid 30 minutes after finishing it and made me contemplate the question of what even ís “good horror fiction” ? Is it supposed to be enjoyable? Because I can’t in good conscience use that word to describe my experience with this book.


Is it supposed to evoke the emotion of horror? Because it did so more than perhaps any other book I’ve read in a long time.


Is it supposed to be memorable? Because I will probably never forget some of the images mrs White put in my brain, thank you very much…


To me, horror is successful, when it does what it sets out to do. Whether that be fun-spooks, causing soul-clenching terror, or showing real-life people or situations in such a dark light that it viscerally disturbs and unsettles you… On that last front, Where I End is a deeply twisted masterclass.



The story:

On an isolated island off the Irish coast lives an equally isolated family of three, shunned by even their fellow few neighbors for their cursed reputation of bad luck and “soul-stench”.

20-year old Aoileann has never left the island. Raised by her Grandmother, she spends her days as the full-time caretaker for her bedbound mother, who’s been left silent and disabled after a tragedy shortly after Aoileann’s birth. The monotony of her grey and wind-wrecked life is shaken up by the arrival of a new inhabitant to the island; a young mother Rachel and her baby Seamus. What starts as a chance meeting between the two young women on a briny beach, soon turns into a dark obsession… Here’s the story of what happens when “loving” and “caring for” become disconnected. And it can only end one way…



What I loved:

Sophie White answers the above-mentioned question in the most visceral way possible, and executes that answer to perfection. It all begins from page one, with her phenomenal word-choice in painting the setting of this creaking, dark and murky house, with its similarly spirited inhabitants. We witness a portrait of a family grown distant from each-other, despite their forced and claustrophobic physical near-ness. Through small everyday events, White shows us the impact of unspoken resentment, dependence and emotional neglect, left festering between these characters for decades. The result is a cast of characters that are rotten to the core, and it was often difficult to read from their perspective. Yet they’re never “villainous”. Oh no, they’re far too human and plausible for that…

Where I End's brand of terror taps into some of the themes and questions that disturb me personally the most. It plays with mother-daughter dynamics, the ugly side to disability and caretaking and the toll that can have on a relationship, grief, guilt and desperation, and the emotional numbness and alienation that can result from it.


Although to me, the event within the Family Walls were the most disturbing, Aoileann’s obsession with Rachel (observing the way Rachel’s care for her son is so vastly similar, yet vastly opposite to the care she give to her mother, and later casting Rachel as an object to project her own desperate love on), is equally disturbing, and provides a brilliant mirror-image to the other storylines.



What I didn’t love:

I realize I’ve just praised Where I End for its ability to viscerally disturb me, but that is also my biggest piece of warning to those considering picking it up. The book hit extremely close for me, due to my personal background as a caregiver for a disabled mother, as well as having a disability myself. For those of you who come to me for “disability recommendations”: this is not one of them. The depiction of disability and caregiving is profoundly warped and toxic. It’s intentionally so, as that warping is the entire core of the horror here. That doesn’t make it less hard to read, however, and it requires a fairly strong stomach and ability to not internalize the protagonist’s views. Aoileann and Mórai’s coping mechanism for the everyday horrors of caretaking is to completely dehumanize Aoife. In fact, we only first learn her name from a letter Aoileann’s father sent to her. Until then, Aoife is referred to by our protagonists as 'the bed-thing'. To them, she is less than human, less than animal; an object to be compartmentalized and kept alive through mere mechanical procedures…

White’s depiction of this cruel mindset of resentment and dehumanization is brilliant. There’s even a scary morsel of truth to it; a dark thought many care-takers may have felt, but pushed down immediately for good reasons. (truly, that’s where the real horror is at…) Yet it’s taken to such grotesque proportions for the purpose of this story that I don’t recommend it to those “close to the subject”.


In other words: trigger warning for everything regarding disability on this one. Not because the representation is bad, but because it might just be a little too good…



Many thanks to Kensington Books for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You can find this book here on Goodreads

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