There’s nothing worse than turning over the last page of a four-hundred page novel to feel dissatisfied with the ending. Maybe your hero died, or maybe those two friends who were perfect for each other didn’t get together, but either way you wish you could write your own ending! This article will address five bittersweet, albeit amazing, books that I wish had ended differently.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland –
Popular with both children and adults, this classic story has been made into many film adaptations including the 1951 Disney version and more recently featuring the likes of Johnny Depp (The Mad Hatter). After noticing Lewis Carroll’s classic story on my reading list for my second year at University I shamefully realised that although I knew the story well from my childhood, I had never actually read the book myself. I found the book so engaging that I read it in one day! The book is a breath of originality because Carroll doesn’t feel the need to be hindered by logic and reality, instead he allows the audience to see the world through a child’s eyes, without being bogged down by what’s real and what’s not. The charm of the book is opening the mind to possibility and Lewis Carroll expresses his intriguing child-like imagination with all the eloquence of a talented writer, but I somehow believe he let himself down with the ending as Alice wakes up declaring “Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream!” and it was all just a figment of her over-active imagination, leaving the reader feeling slightly disenchanted. Is it too much to ask that I wanted a grinning Cheshire cat to exist and for rabbits to be as well-dressed as gentlemen in waistcoats? In some ways I wish Wonderland really did exist, and if Narnia can exist through a dusty old wardrobe then surely Wonderland can be found down a hundred feet rabbit hole.
The Great Gatsby –
Set in 1920s America, F. Scott Fitzgerald focuses his novel on an ambiguous billionaire who welcomes his neighbour into his world of elaborate parties and shady business deals complete with flowing liquor and magnificent jazz music, all with the intention of reaching the man’s cousin: his long lost love, the stunning but unavailable, Daisy Buchanan. The book captures the essence of the ‘roaring twenties’ and is widely considered one of the greatest pieces of American literature ever written. The book takes a dramatic turn when Daisy accidentally kills a woman with her husband’s car and the woman’s husband swears to take revenge, believing it to be Gatsby who was driving the car. I may be too much of an idealist, but I didn’t want Gatsby shot alone in his mansion for a murder he was protecting his beloved Daisy from. I wanted Daisy to stop being so superficial, leave her husband and fall in love with Gatsby, and the book to end on the greatest party Gatsby had ever thrown, celebrating his reunion with Daisy. In Gatsby’s last moments he hears the phone ringing, believing it to be Daisy with hopes of running away together; however it is only his neighbour and good friend and protagonist of the book, Nick Carraway.
Of Mice and Men –
Like many students I studied Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck for GCSE three years ago and the book is still ingrained in my memory as a brilliant but heartbreaking novel, which features around the plot of two men, who are also great friends (an unusual relationship for two ranch workers), both seeking ‘the American dream’ together. The book epitomises the harsh way of life for migrant ranch workers in 1920s America and delicately touches on sensitive themes such as racism, sexism, disabilities and violence. With much struggle to get there, George and Lennie land a job on a ranch after their last job ended badly, inevitably leading to a disastrous end. Much of the hostility that unravels is caused by the boss’ son, Curley, who is unsettled by George and Lennie’s friendship, and he takes a personal dislike to Lennie after he beats Curley in a fight. The plot digresses to Curley’s wife opening up to Lennie about why she flirts with the other men and she misunderstands him wanting to feel the fabric of her dress, leading to her screaming, scaring Lennie and him suffocating her. George, aware that when Curley finds Lennie he will kill him with no mercy, decides the kindest thing would be to kill Lennie himself. So George leaves the ranch friendless, Lenny and Curley’s wife have died and so has Candy’s only companion his dog, not to mention we never learn the name of Curley’s wife. The ‘American Dream’ couldn’t feel further away from George.
Shutter Island –
The novel, written by Dennis Lehane, was made into a film with Leonardo DiCaprio in 2010 who plays Teddy, the main character. Teddy is a US marshall sent with his partner to investigate the disappearance of a woman from a criminally insane prison on Shutter Island, where he believes some questionable drugs and experiments are happening on the Island. He sets out to uncover the truth, with a personal agenda of finding his wife’s murderer, Laeddis, who he believes is on the Island in the most dangerous ward, Ward C. After Teddy attempts to leave the Island with his partner he is told that he came alone and Teddy is convinced that the doctors are playing with his mind trying to make him insane too. The reader then learns that ‘Teddy’ is in fact called Andrew and he himself is a patient at the institution for killing his wife after she murdered their three children, and he had invented the idea of Laeddis as he was unable to cope with the fact that he killed his own wife. The woman’s disappearance he was summoned to investigate is in fact a nurse there and his ‘partner’ is his psychiatrist. The plot is so wonderfully enthralling throughout and there is no denying that there is an unexpected twist to the story, but I still want to believe that Teddy is Teddy and the doctors are in fact conspiring against him to perform a lobotomy, so that the real intentions are not revealed to the rest of the world. At the end of the novel it is unclear whether Andrew is insane or not, or if he is just playing along in order to receive the lobotomy so he doesn’t have to continue with the guilt of murdering his wife.
One Day –
The book follows the two main characters Emma and Dexter through twenty years, focusing on the anniversary of when they became best friends, and describes their ups and downs each year. David Nicholls tells the emotional and uplifting story of a friendship of two struggling and often lost individuals, who fall in love after many years of closeness. They help each other through drug addictions, bereavements, failed careers and poorly-suited partners until the timing is finally right when they are able to both admit their love for each other and get married. However, they then have to go through the fear that they are unable to conceive, which puts a strain on their loving relationship. After sending an affectionate message to Dexter she sets off cycling home, but unfortunately Emma gets killed in a road accident, leaving Dexter heart-broken facing a life without Emma in it, something he had not had to cope with in the last twenty years. The ending of the novel is bittersweet because Dexter finds someone new but they are both aware that no one could ever replace Emma, who he had been through so much hardship with but who he had loved so much.
Nonetheless, despite these endings not quite fitting in with my idealistic world-view, they are all great novels and most of them feature heavily on anyone’s list of ‘books to read before you die’. So maybe I love the unsettling feeling of turning over the last page and it’s not quite what I expected. No one wrote tragedy better than Shakespeare and everyone loves a bit of Shakespeare, don’t they?