In three recent reviews of three different books of mine, the subject of endings has come up. Two of these reviews were thorough, in-depth reviews – always worth their weight in gold - the other a four-liner. But what they all had in common was the feeling that my endings were rather abrupt. The fact that these three reviews came close together in time, regarding three different books of mine, prompted me to write this blog. It’s always good to be challenged and also to know the effect of your writing on your readers.
The four-line reviewer felt that Thalidomide Kid ‘was so rushed in the last chapter that it was almost like the author was trying to beat a deadline and just whipped out the ending rather than finish the story’ and ‘felt cheated of a conclusion’. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth! I spent a lot of time writing and polishing the book with the help of my then publisher. Although my publisher made several suggestions for improvements, interestingly enough, none of them included extending the ending.
Another very favourable review for Fall Of The Flamingo Circus states: ‘My only issue with the book, and it’s a small one, was the ending. It just sort of happened. Lauren’s life didn’t seem resolved in any way. However, I guess diaries do just that, one day you’re writing one, the other you’re not. This though is a personal view. I like stories to close off.’ More about that later.
The third review of Did You Whisper Back? - another thorough in-depth critique - gets to the heart of my intentions when I end a book. The reviewer states: ‘The ending is abrupt which I’m assuming is a deliberate intent to show that a) there are no happy endings and b) there are not really endings in life and c) what we are looking at is a very small beacon of hope, a very small new beginning rather than an ending…I can live with that abruptness because I think it’s stylistically intentional.’
It’s very satisfying for writers when readers and reviewers ‘get’ your intentions. I don’t go in for long drawn-out endings. I hold my hands up, guilty as charged! This is because I have an aversion to the sort of endings, be it in books or in films (especially films) that dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. When that happens I find myself wanting it to end in the perfect place which for me is leaving a bit to the imagination, a bit of mystery, a bit of ambiguity, wanting a bit more. There’s a tradition in European dramas and films to understate endings and not to overdo them which is perhaps lacking in the UK and the US tradition.
In literary fiction, there is more a tradition of the fluid or ambiguous ending. But if you are used to reading genre fiction with different expectations of endings then this may jar and leave you feeling disappointed or frustrated.
My brother had an altogether different explanation for readers’ perceptions of endings. He thought it may be a gender thing and he may well be right. The need for something ‘to close off’ and the feeling of being ‘cheated of a conclusion’ were both from a male perspective, whereas the reviewer for Did You Whisper Back? was female. OK, I know this isn’t scientific evidence but it did get me wondering.
This is where I’d love to have your feedback and thoughts. Feel free to knock these theories down in flames! Do you have expectations of how a book should end? Do you like everything to be tied up or do you like a bit of mystery? Do you have different expectations from different genres? And do you think there are gender differences?
Finally, thank you for reading and many thanks to those who have taken the time and trouble to read and review my books so meticulously.