Review: The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

Updated: Apr 8

I am aware that I recently wrote a review comparing the reviewed book quite closely with a well-established text. I don’t want to get a reputation for that being my schtick. But that being said … it’s hard to talk about The Last Thing to Burn without drawing comparisons with Emma Donoghue’s Room. And unfortunately for The Last Thing to Burn, Room is one of my favourite books. So it has some big boots to fill.

The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean
The Last Thing to Burn by Will Dean

The Last Thing to Burn tells the story of a woman, known as Jane (though that’s not her real name), who has been abducted by Leonard and lives as his housekeeper-proxy mother-sex slave. The book is about her life and how she clings desperately to her few remaining possessions in an effort to keep remembering who she is. Will things change for ‘Jane’ when she discovers she is pregnant?

Can you see where I’m coming from with the Room comparison? This book was truly un-put-downable. I read it in two sittings (Alas, I do occasionally have to sleep and work) and went through it really quickly. I was surprised, then, that I didn’t actually enjoy it more. The content of the story is very grim for most of the story, and in quite an unrelenting way. The Last Thing to Burn doesn’t have Room’s child narrator who knows no better and brings a childish wonder to the horrors he doesn’t realise he’s living in. ‘Jane’ is damaged and addicted and knows what she has left behind — or, what’s almost worse, steadily forgets what she has left behind.

While not wanting to spoil the ending for anyone, the final coda feels like a tidy conclusion that’s not really earned. Room makes an effort to show that the end of abuse is not the end of the effects of abuse, and that doesn’t feel like the case here. There are also elements raised about Leonard, the abductor, that are never resolved in a way that feels frustrating. Unlike in Room, the abductor is at the heart of the story and given some curious pathologies. I can’t deny The Last Thing to Burn is an absolute page-turner and the book I’ve gobbled up quickest in a long time. As a thriller, the story is engaging but the tone falls into extremes that didn’t quite work for me. Ultimately, I feel like there are other works that do what The Last Thing to Burn does but better. The Last Thing to Burn is available to purchase on paperback and ebook here.

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