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Does the lack of a happy ending ruin an otherwise good book?

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Showing 1-25 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Apr 2011, 09:07:44 BST
R. D. Ronald says:
Like the title says, does it detract from the overall experience? Do you feel cheated if the guy doesn't get the girl, the bad guys don't get their comeuppance or the hero doesn't succeed on his quest? Or do you perhaps feel that an ending shouldn't be predetermined, and that having an author brave enough to challenge the trend makes the journey all the more exciting simply because you don't know how the story will end?

I've had this discussion a few times with fellow readers recently, so it will be interesting to hear what some of you think too.
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Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 09:44:46 BST
I Readalot says:
Interesting question. I think that happy ending are over rated. It is more important that the ending works for that particular novel, if there is going to be a tragic ending I have to finish the book thinking 'going by everything that has happend there really was no other way for it to end'. If the boy doesn't get the girl the reader has to know enough about the characters to understand why the relationship could never work and by not getting together their individual lives will at some point in the future be happier. Of course there are certain types of novels where a happy ending is expected, a reader of romantic fiction for example would feel cheated if the book didn't end with the 'marrying off' chapter. I suppose that it is within literary fiction that the authors can take more risks, the kind that don't rely on a formula.

Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 09:56:44 BST
DarrenHF says:
Surely the only ending that counts is the one that fits the book. A shoehorned in happy ending is just as ruinous as an unhappy one put in just for shock value. If the ending is appropriate then it won't disappoint whatever it is.


Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 10:04:41 BST
Lexi says:
I think what is important is a satisfactory ending - not quite the same as a happy ending. I rather like endings that leave a little to the imagination of the reader; where there is still something to think about.

Having said which, I do wish Winston Smith had got the better of Big Brother...


In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2011, 10:08:06 BST
Vicky says:
hmmmmm interesting question. I agree with I Readalot in that it really all depends on the particular genre of the novel but on the other hand I love surprises at the end especially if I didn't 'see' it coming. Although it has to be plausible and not a twist just for the sake of it. I can think of one particular book (Her Fearful Symmetry) that I read recently where the unhappy ending really did disappoint me and I wished that I hadn't perservered with it at all.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2011, 10:08:31 BST
DarrenHF says:
Lexi said
"Having said which, I do wish Winston Smith had got the better of Big Brother..."

No way. One of the best endings ever. Gives me terrified chills just to think about it.


In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2011, 10:12:23 BST
Lexi says:
I'm not saying the ending of 1984 isn't good - of course it is; just I can't help wanting Winston Smith's life not to end so miserably.

And I could argue that history shows no regime, good or vile, lasts forever.


In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2011, 10:16:43 BST
DarrenHF says:
Ah, but is he miserable? He is at peace and he loves Big Brother. He is possibly the happiest he has ever been and that is what makes it so scary and brilliant.


Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 18:41:27 BST
If every book had a happy ending, it wouldn't be worth reading them. I don't want to know the entire story before I start - I like to discover new twists and turns as I go along, and if the ending can have a last-minute quirk which I wasn't expecting (but which fits the story and the characters), then so much the better.

Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 19:12:57 BST
Scott Nagele says:
I prefer hopeful endings to happy endings. There are a lot of great books with endings that I would not consider to be happy. The best of these are the ones in which a less than happy ending still does something to renew our faith in mankind. These are often stories where someone sacrifices their own happiness, or even their own life, for someone they love or for a greater good. For example, I don't think the ending of A Tale of Two Cities is a happy one, but it is a great one because it reaffirms our belief that there are those among us who will make the ultimate sacrafice for those around them. I'll much sooner forget characters who walked off the stage happy, than the one who fell to make them so.

A Smile Through a Tear: Stories

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Apr 2011, 19:24:17 BST
Marion Stein says:
There's a writer whose book I came across at the Authonomy site a couple of years ago It was brilliantly written and the whole thing was posted including the ending. The plot was a domestic drama in which the wife was physically abusive toward the husband, but not yet towards their young daughter. There was an ugly custody battle and an ending that was absolutely right for the book and felt true to the situation. It was a resolution, but not a "happy ending." I found out from the author that she had an agent and had gotten as far as meetings with a couple of big name acquisition editors. Ultimately, the book was rejected because the ending was not considered "upbeat" enough.

Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 19:41:47 BST
[Deleted by Amazon on 29 Jan 2012, 01:04:22 GMT]

Posted on 27 Apr 2011, 20:30:18 BST
Fee fee says:
I do hope for an ending that if not happy exactly, is not terribly sad. I recently read a book that I was really enjoying until it got too sad. I cried buckets and when I had finished it I was a wreck. I don't like feeling like that, although I could say that for a book to evoke such a reaction, it must have been brilliantly written.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 10:00:48 BST
Fiona Hurley says:
I agree that an ending needs to be satisfactory; it needs to fit the story. I hate it when authors twist the plot and characters in knots to get a particular ending that doesn't suit the rest of the story. That could be a tacked-on happy ending (like in some Hollywood films), or an ending that looks like it's going to be happy but then at the last minute the author throws a metaphorical brick just too prove it's all angsty and deep (I could provide examples, but they would be spoilers.)

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 10:16:44 BST
Irene says:
the only endings i don't like are the ones that leave the reader without knowing one way or the other what happened the ones that leave you in mid air without a clue its almost like they could not think or work a proper ending so did not bother

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 13:11:09 BST
~ Me ~ says:
I'd have loved a happier (or even downloadable alternative!) ending to The End of Marking Time.
A brilliant book, it's really well written and on Kindle I thoroughly enjoyed it up to the 96% mark! But that ending stayed with me for days - it was so sad.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 13:33:13 BST
It depends how many things are going on in the book and how much turmoil the characters are in during the course of the plot.

If someone has been murdered then even if the killer is brought to justice that doesn't put everything right. And if a barrister does their job and gets someone off a charge but that person turns out to be guilty then that's bitter sweet too.

And unless the book specifies that all the characters live long happy lives, a reader knows that a happy 'ending' is probably only temporary.

I think most people want to be entertained by a book and there needs to be some aspect of resolution but also some feelgood factor at the end. You don't want to be left feeling depressed about the whole thing.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 13:38:04 BST
Cuban Heel says:
God, I hope not, otherwise I'll never sell another book again...

It depends, of course. Sometimes the happy ending is totally appropriate and satisfying. At other times, I want something that better reflects life - not all parcelled up nicely but messy and complicated and open-ended. Funnily enough I was just discussing another book on a different thread. Won't name the book as I don't want to spoil it if anyone hasn't read it, but a mystery that doesn't really get resolved. I thought that was brilliant.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 18:31:35 BST
Marion Stein says:
I can be devastated by a sad ending, especially if it's the type of book where I've invested a lot emotionally in the characters. Freedom, which I read recently, had me in tears, even though the one character whose death (foreshadowed) was IMHO not the most well-drawn, a had happened years before in book time and was just referred to in the last line. The ending was more bittersweet and showed a completion and growth over time of the characters. They emerged more complete and fully so it wasn't really sad. The ending of House of Sand and Fog, just killed me. I never saw the movie because I couldn't imagine sitting through it, but it was also perfectly constructed and just brilliantly done.

I recently saw a film Win-Win, which is a "small" movie despite its prestigious cast -- Paul Giammatti and Amy Ryan among them. It didn't end in tragedy, but it probably wasn't the upbeat "victory" it could have been. It was an ending that made me happy because it both seemed completely believable for the story and also involved a character's growth, self-acceptance and understanding of what was valuable. Without spoiling it, there was a moment when a character is looking in a mirror and can look himself in the eye, and that was moving. Not sure why I'm bringing it up on this thread, except to say if it is playing at some "arty" movie house near you, go see it and if it's not, look for it on DVD.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Apr 2011, 18:38:15 BST
Marion Stein says:
A mystery that's left unresolved? I could see that annoying a reader or two. ;-). Must have been self-published or available through one of those "micro-presses."
The books I've read in recent years that have less then traditionally upbeat endings: House of Sand of Fog, Freedom and Next (James Hynes) all come to mind -- were not first novels, but were written by established authors. In the case of Next, I'm certain it never, ever would have come near publication as a first book. Despite great reviews, it seemed to sink quickly. I hope it doesn't ruin the author and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 18:53:39 BST
I felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach, upon reading Sarah Water's 'Affinity'; the episode of the 'false keepsake' given to the heroine by her would-be lover was devastating, unforgettable. While a happy ending would have been pleasant, I doubt it would have been anywhere near as memorable.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 19:22:02 BST
Marion Stein says:
Worse than unhappy endings, are the tricks. I don't mind them, but my better-half still feels "used" by Atonement.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Apr 2011, 19:22:17 BST
Last edited by the author on 28 Apr 2011, 19:22:45 BST
First Review says:
Fate This seems to have a happy ending but is it? A very complex and satisfying read in Kindle e-book form.

Posted on 28 Apr 2011, 19:55:39 BST
Really, we're discussing this out of context. It depends what the book is about. An ongoing mystery/romance etc may be a vehicle to a character's learning or coming to terms with other things, for example.

I've read and enjoyed Something Might Happen by Julie Myerson and Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Without giving away the plots, it's safe to say that neither of these are entirely resolved for the characters. But they are to some extent resolved for the reader and the characters grow through a coming-to-terms-with process.

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Apr 2011, 19:55:57 BST
Cuban Heel says:
Marion, you might be surprised by the author of the mystery that doesn't get resolved... Been around quite some time with major MAJOR success. This one was a bit of a departure for him though. And yes, the ending pretty much split the readership down the middle if you look at the reviews.
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Discussion in:  fiction discussion forum
Participants:  28
Total posts:  42
Initial post:  27 Apr 2011
Latest post:  13 May 2011

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