Giving away the ending

Meet Alastair. Over dinner he let me take his photo and let me in on his unusual reading habit.

Alastair is an avid reader – he reads all kinds of books but prefers historical mysteries. When he buys a new book he reads the first chapter or so and then reads the ending.
Alastair
The writer in me immediately jumped to the author’s defence. I thought of the years of work that often goes into writing a novel, the sweating over plot points and all the work that goes into making a satisfying ending. I was horrified. I don’t go in for twist in the tale endings, but the ending should be a surprise, even if the novelist has carefully arranged for you to see it coming and spend much of the novel willing the protagonist to do something stop the slide towards an inevitably unhappy ending.

Alastair admitted that sometimes the ending is enough for him to stop reading on. But mostly he reads to the end and he’s happy knowing how it’s going to turn out.

I thought of all the work that goes into the endings of my own stories, and realised that I have absolutely no control over whether that ending is given away right at the start or in the middle, even if I didn’t write it that way. As a writer it sent a shiver down my spine.

As a reader, I can kind of see what he means. Though I wouldn’t read the whole last chapter, sometimes I can’t resist a glance at the last sentence.

How about you? Have you ever read the ending of a book before you should? And if so, what makes you do it?

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6 comments

  1. […] Alfter dinner conversation #2 To take full advantage of Flickr, you should use a JavaScript-enabled browser and install the latest version of the Macromedia Flash Player. F.decorate(_ge(‘button_bar’), F._photo_button_bar).bar_go_go_go(2332030193, 0);F.decorate(_ge(‘photo_notes’), F._photo_notes).notes_go_go_go(2332030193, ‘http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2034/2332030193_53fbcbbfc9_t.jpg’, ‘3.1444’); View ronet’s map Taken in a place with no name (See more photos here) Alastair has an unusual reading habit  […]

  2. I understand your distress and horror at Alastair’s reading method, yet I sometimes wonder just how vital is the plot. It depends on the type of story, of course, but there is so much to enjoy in a good book other than its plot. Conversely, if giving away the plot leaves nothing to be enjoyed, I would take that to indicate a significant deficiency in the book. I am coming round to the belief that literature is what remains after the plot is taken out. A great blog, which I have only recently discovered. I shall certainly return

  3. I suppose it could work well with a plot driven storyline, which would include a lot of detective novels.

    It’s also a great provocative way to create a debate about structure and content. Some novelists who explore the human condition would use the characters as representations of ideas (Kafka, Sartre), so skipping to the end would mean missing the equivalent of a conversation with a clever thinker. Come to think of it, the Castle by Kafka was published but wasn’t even finished – so oops there goes the ending.

  4. Dave – thanks for dropping by and for the comment. As I wrote the post I began to question myself and you’ve raised some interesting points. good book is so much more than a clever ending, or at least it should be.

    rashbre – you’ve reminded me that I need to read some Kafka and Sartre!

  5. Hi Debra! My dad does that all the time – reads the ending first. He’s an avid reader, usually consuming hundreds of books per year, so I guess it works for him. As a reader, the idea makes me shudder. Why know the ending before you’ve read everything that came before? Then again, I’m the kind of person who likes the anticipation of Christmas or birthday presents and doesn’t want to open them early. As a writer, I don’t think I care how a reader approaches my work, as long as they are engaged.

    Sharon

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