Monday, October 23, 2006

Happy Endings

I was listening to Australian author David Malouf on Radio National last night and he made an interesting comment about why he finds it so difficult to finish his novels. He said that an ending must be 'both surprising and inevitable'. I thought this was an excellent way of describing what makes a good ending in a novel. The endings of so many novels are disappointing and usually it's because they don't satisfy both of these criteria.

Malouf's idea brought to mind 'Atonement' by Ian McEwan. I loved the first part of 'Atonement'. In fact, the first section of that novel would be one of my favourite pieces of writing ever. McEwan creates the period atmosphere so effectively and the betrayal of Robbie Turner by the young girl Briony is so powerful I had an almost physical reaction to it. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the page no matter how horrified I became. This opening section is then followed by a sections that take place during and shortly after WWII and then there is a short section that concludes the novel and takes place in 1999. This last part of the novel fails to live up to the power of the novel's opening. There is a 'twist' in the ending which smacks of post-modern gimmickry. It is an ending that is surprising, but not inevitable given the vivid 'truthfulness' of the opening scenes.

This got me thinking about which novels have really satisfying endings. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' springs to mind, and certainly feels surprising and inevitable. There is drama and excitement as Scout and Jem fight Bob Ewell in the dark and Boo comes to the rescue, however it is not drama for drama's sake. The ending feels inevitable because it draws together the unresolved story lines in a realistic and satisfying way. But maybe it is just because I love this novel and think everything about it is perfect...

More on this topic later as I consider other examples. I would love to hear anyone else's thoughts on this issue of endings or the above novels though...

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