Book Review: The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean

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He is her husband. She is his captive.

Her husband calls her Jane. That is not her name.

She lives in a small farm cottage, surrounded by vast, open fields. Everywhere she looks, there is space. But she is trapped. No one knows how she got to the UK: no one knows she is there. Visitors rarely come to the farm; if they do, she is never seen.

Her husband records her every movement during the day. If he doesn’t like what he sees, she is punished.

For a long time, escape seemed impossible. But now, something has changed. She has a reason to live and a reason to fight. Now, she is watching him, and waiting . . .

How do you write a review of a book like The Last Thing To Burn? It has been seeming like an impossible task to put down in words the feelings I have about this book and yet, review it I must because word of this book needs spreading far and wide so that as many people as possible read it. I’ve yet to come across anyone who has read this book who hasn’t been blown away by it, and I am no different. I am not exaggerating when I say that this is one of the most outstanding books I have ever read.

When I was thinking about writing this review, I was so overwhelmed by the idea of having to put down on the page my complex feelings about it, I joked with a fellow blogger that I was just going to try and sum up a reason for someone to read the book in a single line, and spare myself the pain of trying to communicate with my inadequate words anything more. I still think I could make you want to read this book with that single line, so here it is:

I have never hated anyone, in real life or in fiction, as much as I hate the antagonist in this book.

You see, you want to know why now, don’t you? Why is he the worst person I have ever come across? Well, pick up the book and find out and, by the time you have finished, I know you will agree with me. This person is stone cold evil in a way you will probably have never read about before, and the author will stun you throughout by peeling back more and more depths to his sadism as you go through the book and think you have already plumbed the depths to which a human can sink. The most terrifying part of it is, the plausibility of the scenario. This is no wild flight of fancy where Will is writing a really obvious piece of fiction for entertainment. This book is so horrifying because you know that this could absolutely happen, is likely happening somewhere in this country. That is what makes is so disturbing.

If you are now wondering why you should read a book that I have described as something horrifying and disturbing, I will tell you. On the flip side of cruelty and depravity, this book explores the power of love and the resilience and determination of the human spirit in its face. Brought as low as a human can go, subjected to inhumanity that is too horrible for most of us to think about on a daily basis, inside the protagonist is a spark that the antagonist has not managed to quell. There is life and there is fight and, where that exists, there is a glimmer of hope. This hope, and this evidence of humanity and dignity in the face of adversity that seems insurmountable, is what will keep you glued to the pages. It is what will make you invest in and care for the protagonist as much as you loathe the perpetrator of her misery and will her to prevail. And you will be desperate for it, desperate to know if the human spirit will triumph in the end. You won’t know, but you will hope, and hope and hope as you frantically turn the pages and read until your bath water is cold, and your daughter comes to check you haven’t drowned and all of your chores go undone until you know, one way or another, what will happen. Thank goodness that this book is only 250 pages long, because you will absolutely have to, as if YOUR life depended on it, start and finish this book in a single sitting.

This is a man who really understands women, and you can tell that from the way he writes ‘Jane.’ There are things in this book that this woman goes through that would make most men blush to talk about and yet Will writes about them, and her reaction to what happens to her, as if these are things he has experienced and understands intimately. Honestly, this was one of the things that really struck me, just how truthfully, compassionately and empathetically he writes the experience of this woman, so that she is totally real to the reader. If you really stand back and look at it, it is an astonishing accomplishment.

I still don’t think I’ve done this book justice, but I have done my best. Just read this book, it is an unbelievable piece of literature. One of my writer friends, who finished the book just last night, talked this morning about having to ‘pull herself out of his world,’ and I can relate completely to that statement. This is a completely immersive piece of work that takes you entirely out of your world and plonks you directly into the life of someone else, until that is all you can think about. And, even when you have finished, you still won’t be able to stop thinking about it entirely for weeks afterwards. I already knew, on 10 January when I finished this book, that it would be one of my Top Ten Books of 2021. Scrap that. it might be in my Top Ten books of all time. Just read it. Even the title is absolute genius.

We Begin At The End is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here. It will be available in paperback in December 2021.

About the Author

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Will Dean grew up in the East Midlands, living in nine different villages before the age of eighteen. After studying law at the LSE, and working many varied jobs in London, he settled in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing and it’s from this base that he compulsively reads and writes.

DARK PINES, the first in the Tuva Moodyson series, was published to huge critical acclaim in 2018, was shortlisted for Not the Booker prize, selected for Zoe Ball’s TV Book Club and named as a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year. THE LAST THING TO BURN is his first standalone novel.

Connect with Will:

Twitter: @willrdean

Instagram: @willrdean

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Last Thing To Burn by Will Dean

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