How many of you are bold enough to read the ending of a book before beginning it? I might take an occasional guilty peek but only when a novel begins to drag. As a rule I am an obedient reader and let the author lead the way. Also when I am enjoying a book, the ending becomes ever more precious and I want to appreciate the full power of the finale.
There is a popular notion that a writer has to capture his or her potential reader on the first page. With all the emphasis on the opening of a novel, I haven’t been giving that much thought to endings but as far as any lasting impression of a book goes, the ending has more weight. It is the place where you are likely to hear the author’s voice most clearly and often find the real message of the book.
To the most recent example: I have just finished On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, a wonderful depiction of lost love. The private hell of the newlyweds’ wedding night is beautifully portrayed but it is the row on the beach after Florence and Edward’s doomed attempt at lovemaking that broke this reader’s heart. The two main characters are trapped in an escalating argument where they find themselves saying the most hurtful and reckless things to each other, simply because honesty is impossible.
So it makes perfect sense to me that McEwan ends the novel back at the beach on that fateful night, with the message that not even a lifetime of regret can undo the consequences of our actions, or in this case, inaction.
On Chesil Beach he could have called out to Florence, he could have gone after her. … Instead, he stood in cold and righteous silence in the summer’s dusk, watching her hurry along the shore, the sound of her difficult progress lost to the breaking of small waves, until she was a blurred, receding point against the immense straight road of shingle gleaming in the pallid light.
Here are a few more endings for your enjoyment:
The Gathering by Anne Enright
Gatwick airport is not the best place to be gripped by a fear of flying. But it seems that this is what is happening to me now; because you are up so high, in those things, and there is such a long way to fall. Then again, I have been falling for months. I have been falling into my own life, for months. And I am about to hit it now.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
And I thought of a cresting wave of water, lit by a moon, rushing past and vanishing upstream, pursued by a band of yelping students whose torchbeams criss-crossed in the dark.
There is accumulation. There is responsibility. And beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
A rare surge of feeling, of something like vindication, came from the pit of his belly and spread out till it sang in his veins. As he stood with his hands in his pockets, staring out over the sleeping city, over its darkened wheels and spires and domes, Veals laughed.
I’ve got to say McEwan with his “cold and righteous silence” is my favourite here but maybe that’s because I’m still under the spell of the book.
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