Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Top 5... Books With WTF? Endings

Have you ever enjoyed a novel, only to feel let down by a weak, poorly thought out, or simply insane ending?  As if the author gave up on making sense and decided to let his pot-smoking dog write the final chapter instead.  Some writers base an entire novel around an ending that doesn't make much sense - a prime example of which is Jeffrey Eugenides and The Virgin Suicides.  Below are five examples of how to do it properly: these books will leave you baffled, bemused and scratching your head, but ultimately grateful for the experience.  I've included no spoilers, so that you may go on to enjoy these mad, mad stories for yourself.

5. I'm Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti
This novel's opening premise is as bizarre as its ending - the central character, a young boy in 1940s Italy, discovers a hole in the ground which conceals a captive child.  Initially, I expected the story to play out like a fairy tale - is the boy a monster, or some kind of spirit?  Neither - the explanation is much more logical, although no less surprising.

4. The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice
The main characters in Rice's second novel all see their freshman year of college as a chance to reinvent themselves and shed the troubles of their former lives.  This means that, as a reader, you grow to empathise with people who are not what they seem.  The climactic scenes in this book are among the most bizarre, grotesque and well-written endings that I have ever read.

3. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
I'm pretty sure that you could include most novels from Bret Easton Ellis's oeuvre here, from the abrupt, mid-sentence ending of The Rules of Attraction to the peculiar revelations of American Psycho.  But Lunar Park is my personal choice for this list, simply as it is the most frustrating.  It seems to switch genre every couple of pages, transforming from a standard Bret Easton Ellis sex-and-drug-fuelled romp into a ghost story, a missing child drama, a horror tale, and ultimately, pure meta-fiction.  I'll admit to not very much liking this book for the entire time I was reading it - that is, until its poetic, redemptive final few pages.

2. The Accidental by Ali Smith
Amber, a most peculiar woman, arrives out of nowhere to disrupt a troubled family's holiday.  The husband assumes she is a friend of his wife, and the wife assumes the opposite.  The truth is, nobody knows who Amber is or where she came from.  She inserts herself into the daily lives of their children: young, curious Astrid and anxious teenager Magnus.  For a little while, you suspect this is going to be one of those stories where a magical stranger changes a family's lives for the better - but nothing could be further from the truth.  The final few chapters of The Accidental confound the reader so much that it is impossible to resist the urge to go back and read from the beginning, in the hopes that you missed some kind of clue that will give this book some kind of meaning.

1. Thirteen by Sebastian Beaumont
If you're a fan of the films of David Lynch, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  The central character is a taxi driver who has spent so long working the night shift that he feels disconnected to real life.  Into his fractious world walks Valerie, a terminally ill woman who lives at 13 Wish Road.  As the driver's hold on reality begins to crumble, he discovers that there is no Number 13 Wish Road - the street ends at 12.  Soon, he is meeting more people like Valerie - individuals that seem to know him, even though he has never met them before.  Thus begins a surreal, riveting journey into madness.


  1. The only one on the list I read was the Accidental. I don't mind surprise endings and twists, especially in movies, but when things are left completely unresolved, that just annoys me no end. It makes me wonder if the author just got so bogged down he/she couldn't figure out what to do. In which case I'd rather they just kill everyone.

  2. I know what you mean, a twist ending can work so well if there are actual clues leading up to it that you can then step back and go "damn, how did I miss that?" - then you can enjoy the story a second time from a new perspective, much like The Sixth Sense. However, if the ending doesn't follow the narrative that led up to it, it's just rather disappointing. The five books on this list baffled me but I still enjoyed them, if for no other reason than I spent ages afterwards trying to figure them out!