In 1980 the McCloud family welcomes Trevor, their third child and the last to be born on Eilean Fior, a small island off the west coast of Scotland. Life there, on the eve of Trevor's birth, is grim: the population, once in the hundreds, now hovers around thirty; his parents stubbornly maintain the family business, a guesthouse, despite their increasing trouble turning a profit; and a plague of rats threatens to wipe out the island's last remaining hopes. Against this backdrop, and through a series of interlocking narratives spanning from Trevor's birth to the present day, What Ends follows each of the McClouds as they navigate their ever-more fragile lives.
Andrew Ladd is the blog editor for pshares.org and his work has appeared in Apalachee Review, Memoir Journal and Rumpus.net, among others. He grew up in Edinburgh and has since lived in Boston, Montreal and New York. He currently lives in London. What Ends is his first novel.
In 1980, Trevor McCloud is the last baby born on Eilan Fìor, a small island off the coast of Scotland. While at one time the population of Eilan Fìor numbered in the hundreds, times have been tough, and only a few families remain. Trevor's parents operate a guesthouse, which mostly caters to tourists in the summertime, and the adjoining pub serves as the center of the continuously shrinking community.
Trevor's arrival is disruptive to his two older siblings—Barry, the studious boy who has enjoyed being the only pupil in the island school until Trevor's birth hastens sending their sister, flighty and creative Flora, to school as well. She'd rather draw and spy on the wealthy artist who lives in one of the big houses on the island. But until Barry must leave for boarding school (there is no high school on the island), he and Flora share a close bond.
One by one, the remaining families leave Eilan Fìor, until the McClouds are the only people living there permanently. While the parents, George and Maureen, have been reasonably content to stay there for the rest of their lives, their children—Barry and Flora in particular—want more out of life. Barry flees first and then Flora leaves to attend art school, after considering spending the rest of her life on the island helping her parents manage. While Barry never really looks back, Flora is unsure whether life off of the island is what she truly wants until she arrives.
What Ends is a somewhat elegiacal look at how time and circumstances can change the way of life you planned. It's a book about being torn between wanting more out of life than what is in front of you or settling for what you have been given. It's the story of wishes that never quite come true the way you hope, feelings and resentments left unexpressed and unsaid, and the obligations of family.
The book shifts in perspective among all of the McClouds, and spans from 1980 through 2005. Andrew Ladd has created a fictional island that seems very real, full of taciturn yet passionate people, and draws you into their lives. Much like the McCloud children, I wanted a little more from this book than I got. I felt the stories were a bit unresolved, and I didn't feel I got to know all of the characters as well as I would have liked. But Ladd's writing is beautiful, almost poetic, and you find yourself trying to picture Eilan Fìor in your mind as you read.
The McClouds are the last family with children on a tiny island in the Scottish Hebrides. Eilean Fior’s population has been declining steadily for years, and as Andrew Ladd’s novel begins, the only new inhabitants are rats.
Owners of a guesthouse popular with summer tourists, George and Maureen McCloud cling to their livelihood despite the portents of gloom. But do they and their three children have any more control over their fate than the rats which can be systematically trapped and removed?
Life on Eilean Fior may once have been idyllic, but in 1980 chances for happiness are shrinking along with opportunities and the number of residents. The isolation in no way prepares the young McClouds for the outside world, especially their first harsh introduction to it, the totally alien and brutal environment of boarding school. Yet all will ultimately be forced to choose their future: shall it be the unknown possibilities on the far shore or returning home to work in the guesthouse and care for their parents as they age? Will they be guided by self-interest, self-preservation, or guilt?
Maureen, hardly a nurturing mother, offers little encouragement in the life decisions of Barry, Flora, and Trevor. Her interactions with her children are generally sharp, demanding, and unsympathetic, yet when one chooses to leave the island, she is devastated --and expresses it by yelling that she won’t allow such a decision. Or is she jealous? Certainly the marriage she so desperately wanted has its share of staleness and drudgery.
And George? A decent and understanding if sometimes oblivious father, he was content to return to the island after college to take over the guesthouse from his parents, spends hours with his cryptic crosswords, and caters to his wife without complaint.
In many ways the McClouds’ story is reminiscent of those of numerous families: one adult who feels stuck in a monotonous life, one who is quite happy with it, and offspring who can’t get the hell out of Dodge fast enough and those who are painfully torn about their own futures and their debt to their parents. By setting this tale on a dying island the author heightens all of these elements.
“What Ends” is beautifully told, profoundly sad, very human. We’re never told everything about any given character, but with the glimpses we have of each of the five McClouds over 20 years, their actions and their thoughts, we come to know and understand them. We may not quite like them -- but liking them doesn’t really seem to be the point.
My only quibble is the placement of one of the four sections out of chronological order, especially since it wasn’t a typical flashback. There may have been a grand purpose for this, but I was just confused by it. Otherwise, this would have been a clear five-star book for me.
Andrew Ladd's debut novel is sad. Really, really sad. But despite the sadness of a tiny island's last family struggling to come to grips with the inherent loneliness of living alone on a tiny island, there are moments of joy and beauty. In the family's simple routines, the way they relate to one another, the way they make a life in isolation.
It's an acknowledgement that life can be beautiful and confounding, despite the bleakness, the sometimes utterly dull slog of the everyday.
Just how much does the geography of where you were born have to do with your life experience? Quite a lot, if that place is the grim, isolated, fictional Scottish island of Eilean Fior. In his novel, What Ends, Andrew Ladd tells the haunting story of George and Maureen McCloud, whose youngest son, Trevor, is the last child ever to be born on the island. The story opens in 1980 with Trevor's birth and leaps back and forth between then and the early 21st century, with interspersing flashbacks to the early days of Maureen and George's marriage.
The McClouds run the tiny island's only guesthouse and at the time of Trevor's birth the island has already started its steep decline. Trevor joins Barry and Flora, their two other children, and they have the distinction of being the only children remaining, many of its inhabitants having fled to the mainland for better jobs.
Life on Eilean Fior is harsh, brutal and intensely isolating. Barry realizes at a very young age that he will leave the place at the frst opportunity he gets and Flora eventually learns that if she is to have any kind of fulfilling life, she, too, will need to escape. But getting their parents to understand their need for independence is nearly impossible and at first we do not understand the severe attitude of their mother and the submissiveness of their father.
The author slowly fills in the gaps and paints a heartbreaking portrait of a sad, lonely and unfulfilling marriage. We glimpse Maureen's longings and understand her bitterness. And it all boils down to being trapped in an unforgiving, harsh, and joyless environment. Who wouldn't want to leave?
In a futile attempt to change her life, Maureen embarks on an ultimately unsuccessful venture, and when she realizes it won't work she thinks: "An absolution. A promise that even though she loved her family, loved George (and she did, somehow, didn't she?), it was ok to want to leave this place. To wish for something else."
Every character in this novel, with maybe the exception of George, wishes for something else. But what they mostly get isn't something better. And that makes for a very sad tale indeed.
In his aptly named debut novel, Andrew Ladd accomplishes much with little. By the end of the first chapter, we know that Trevor—the youngest of the McCloud family—will be the last remaining inhabitant of Eilean Fior, an island already in decline by the time of his birth. What we don’t yet know is how this island’s story will inevitably end, or to what ends each family member will go to escape it. Ladd’s prose invites the reader beneath the surface of what is a seemingly simple story about seemingly simple characters to highlight the complexities of human nature, identity, and our inherent need for connection both within and apart from our families. The story of the McClouds is one that will linger in your psyche long after its end.
The Hebrides and the Orkney islands are isolated places, and perhaps their proximity to the sea with the hard, dangerous craft of fishing sharpens one's senses. Isolation may hone them further. Coupled to the passing of time with decay or change, and the gradual depopulation of these isles makes for poignant reading.
I have spent time with George MacKayBrown's poems before reading What Ends, and it colored my sense of place although the mythic, religious and fatalistic is much deeper in those poems than in What Ends.
The story of the end of a cultural as well as personal way of life is tragic, and this particularly so. It is a complex story, with lives of poverty and isolation. Of art and loneliness, of hard work and sorrow. And of joy through art. At the end of the day, however, the island is empty.
I found the image of George's dementia and death perceptive about someone at his point: confused, dreamy, lethal rather than simply forgetful.
The most sophisticated aspect of Andrew Ladd’s debut novel, What Ends — winner of the 2012 AWP Award for the Novel — is its shifting perspectives and narrative voices. The free indirect discourse moves between the five members of the McCloud family: George and his wife Maureen and their children Barry, Flora, and Trevor. We get glimpses of each character through the eyes of their family members and also by experiencing the narrative from their point of view.
Set on the fictional Scottish island Eilean Fìor — based on various locations around western Scotland, according to the author’s note — the narrative of What Ends is organized into four sections that jump around in time: 1980 moves to 1995, then the story shifts back to 1988 before ending in 2002.
These chronological acrobatics highlight the novel’s central crisis, that the “older way of life had begun to falter, and a skulking sense of the end, impending — however optimistically ignored, however strong their sentimental bonds — was slowly beginning to take hold.” This anxiety for the island’s future drives the story: more and more people have been moving to the larger islands or the mainland, as opportunities have become scarcer on Eilean Fìor. The McClouds, who run the island’s only guesthouse and pub, end up as the last family on the island. Looming over the narrative is the unspoken obligation for at least one of the children to stay on the island and inherit the family business.
There was a feeling of restraint about this novel, set on a remote Scottish island with few inhabitants. Events are handled with understatement, where a trashier novel might have sensationalised them. Maureen's relationship with the Environmental Health guy was a case in point. I also thought the chapter written from the point of view of a dementia sufferer was a bold experiment that worked very well. I enjoyed the insight into life on an island with hardly any neighbours - the nuts and bolts of how it all worked. On the other hand, there was a tendency to allow characters to drop out of the story with little in the way of update on their condition, and the character Trevor never really had his personality filled out. A novel with many good points but which somehow didn't work as a rounded whole.
I read this because the author, a friend, asked me for a blurb. But more importantly it's a very good book, not to mention being set on a Scottish island which I am always glad to see in fiction.
Here's what I wrote in my blurb:
"Like its Hebridean setting, WHAT ENDS is landscape of subtle shifts and bright revelations. With a keen eye and a generous heart Andrew Ladd charts the lives of an island's last family, bringing their remote home from the periphery of world events to the center of our attention as he tells a story inextricably local yet universal at the same time. This quietly sweeping debut is a bittersweet, triumphant champion for all those swept up in the forces of historical change."
A beautiful book that haunts you as much as the wild places it describes. Whilst reading it I thought of so many places where people have fought to keep the life they loved, and yet it slipped from sight.
The only part I struggled with was the backward time shift in one section, not sure why.
A sad tale in so many ways, yet there was joy if you looked for it, in relationships that seemed broken but were mended, or held out the promise of redemption.
What I enjoyed most about this book was that the author chose to tell the story from each of the family's viewpoint, and to weave the whole together by a fluid back and forth in time sequence. Throughly a good read.