Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Unhappily Ever After?

I’ll readily admit it. I’m one of those people. Occasionally, I like to read a book that has an unhappy ending. Actually, more than occasionally. I often like books with unhappy endings.

Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy a happy ending as much as the next person, as long as it’s not cheesy or silly or completely unrealistic. For example, I love the end of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility and other Victorian novels. I smile when I close the book at the end of some modern novels, knowing that the guy and the girl got together in the end, the dragon was slain, the illness was cured, and all the wayward child returned home. Those endings have their place. But I really love a book that ends with a sob or a sigh, or even those books that make me think about the world at large and its injustices.



I think the reason I feel this is way is because life is often sad and things don’t always go the way we hope. C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we’re not alone.” With this in mind, I like finding characters with whom I can identify.

So I decided to highlight some of those books I’ve read with satisfyingly unhappy endings (without giving away the ending of course).

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The book and the movie (starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson) came out in the 90s, and honestly, it is one of my absolute favorites. Mainly the story is about Stevens the butler as he looks back over his life and his unrelenting loyalty to his employer. There is a love story in the mix and a historical nod to pre-World War II and the beginnings of the holocaust. It is a story I could read and watch over and over again simply because of its raw, yet reserved emotion, and the depiction of realization and regret.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I know I’ve mentioned this novel before, and I’m mentioning it again because it really is one of my favorites. The writing is masterful and the story is just so very real. Set in the 1950s, the novel is a close look into the lives of the Wheelers—a married couple trying to break out of the traditional societal mold. Before they married and had children, they were sure they were destined for greatness, but now reality sets in and so does the feeling of entrapment. This is not a vulgar novel, but it is gritty and honest and addresses the realities of marriage and domestic life without any sugar-coating.

Mrs. Kimble by Jennifer Haigh


This is a fascinating tale of one man and his three wives (and the novel is broken up into three parts--each part the point of view of each of his wives). In the first chapter we learn of Mr. Kimble’s death, and then we learn of what life was like with him through the perspective of his wives and how he basically destroys them. It’s kind of like watching a Lifetime movie, and although it’s sad, the ending is wholly satisfying.

 And as a bonus, here’s one I haven’t read yet, but everyone is loving it right now , and I’m told the ending is “devastating.”



So which do you prefer? A happy or a sad ending?

10 comments:

  1. An unhappy ending isn't necessarily unhappy if the characters all get what they want, even though it may not be the happy ending. I'm thinking of a movie I saw recently, Seven Pounds with Will Smith. The ending was not happy in the traditional sense but it was satisfying because the MC got exactly what he wanted, which was to atone for the guilt he felt about a horrible accident.

    And I'm with you-- I like the unhappy ending sometimes too.

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    1. I saw that movie too, and I agree with you. I really liked the ending and the purpose of the ending. That was a rather intense movie all together as I recall.

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  2. I thought Seven Pounds was great. Sometimes books and movies are heartbreakingly beautiful. I usually prefer a happy ending, but a good cry can be helpful. I read Revolutionary Road and saw the movie. Both were excellent. I think it's interesting that a male writer could capture a woman's desperation. I've seen the movie of The Remains of the Day. It's good. I want to read the book. I keep hearing about The Fault In Our Stars. It's on my Amazon wish list.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. Janie, I feel the same about Rev Road. I really felt and understood both perspectives in that book. Both of them were desperate in different ways, and "Paris" represented that pot of gold at the end of the proverbial and elusive rainbow. I keep debating whether to read Fault or not. I generally don't like death-due-to-disease novels, but everyone says its so good.

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  3. I'm going to check out some of the books you listed here. For the life of me, I can't remember a book right now that I read that had an unhappy ending, but I'm sure there were a few in my life. I think I would go with a realistic ending rather than a cheesey ending like you said.

    betty

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    1. Betty, I read a lot more happy ending books nowadays. Unhappy ending may be the wrong word, but they're not the fairy-tale endings.

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  4. I think books with unhappy endings tend to stick with you longer and be more likely to resonate with the public. However, writers like Nicholas Sparks have done it so often, it tends to reduce the impact. Unhappy endings work best when they're completely unexpected, but we've grown the ability to see the signs that something bad is going to happen at the end of a book. The Fault in Our Stars, for instance. I knew from the beginning it wouldn't end well. Even with unhappy endings, though, there's always some hopeful sign at the end--some overall message about life that makes it somewhat worth it. If it's unhappy with no point whatsoever, then the reader is disappointed.

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    1. Stephanie, I agree. Unhappy endings may stick with us longer, but they often run the risk of being melodramatic or pointless. There needs to be a message or a real reason for ending a story with death and/or loss.

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  5. Never let me Go was a rather sad book with an ambiguous ending, but I liked it.

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  6. I like both happy and sad endings. I agree that sad endings stick with you longer.

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