The sense of an ending

I can’t say I’ve ever done this – skipping forward and reading the end when halfway through a book. My eyes may slide down to the bottom of the page to the end of a chapter occasionally… but I don’t make a habit of it. This article by Danuta Kean, blogger and Guardian columnist, details why she thinks it’s a good idea to read the end before you get to the end…

Kean says her main motivation is to ward of the bitter disappointment of a bad ending. I agree about the pain of a bad end to a book – it does feel a bit like a betrayal, after investing so much time and emotion into a good story and good characters. I’m still not over the disappointment to the ending of Atonement, many years after reading it. But a book is a book – the story is written in the order it is for a reason. Plus, endings don’t just exist on their own. They need the beginning and the middle to make sense.

If I had known how disappointed I would be in the ending of Atonement, I probably wouldn’t have read it. Kean mentions books like Gone Girl that she has ditched before making any investment of time in them, because she read the ending and knew it would be a let down. (I still haven’t read Gone Girl, and I haven’t seen the film. It’s on my TBR, but I’m not the type to read a book just because its commercially popular.)

But how do you know the ending of a book is really that bad without the context of the rest of the story? A story develops page by page, and is written the way it is for a reason. You have to trust the author, even though you know that there is a risk that you could get to the last chapter and feel disappointed. Sometimes it’s appropriate for an author to reveal the end of a book at the beginning – what I think of as the “Without a Trace” method – you know the actions of the characters lead ultimately to a murder, but you go on the journey with them as you work backwards to find out why.

If you can’t really know if the ending of a book is bad without the context of the beginning and middle, subsequently I don’t think you can know if it’s really good either. And even if you could somehow tell that it was good, I would argue that you wouldn’t then enjoy the rest of the story anyway. Kean disagrees, saying that it makes her enjoy the story even more. But part of the enjoyment of any book is going on a journey with the characters – if you know where they all end up, there seems little point in rooting for them in any way.

I’ve seen a few online threads about this subject and it seems more people subscribe to this practise than I thought. Whatever readers do to enjoy books is fine by me, but I don’t think I’ll be taking up this particular habit.

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