20th Jun 2012
Gina Goes Pop: Where Are All The Happy Endings?
Since I received a generous amount of birthday money alongside a shiny new iPad, I’ve been doing a lot more reading for pleasure recently than I’ve been able to for a while.
As well as visiting familiar favourites like the Shopaholic series and Georgia Nicholson, I’ve also jumped aboard many a bandwagon with the likes of The Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Grey, Song of Ice and Fire, and Me Before You.
While I have heartily enjoyed the chance to get back to grips with reading books simply for the pure pleasure of doing so, I can’t pretend it’s been a laugh-a-minute experience for the new novels involved.
I read Me Before You in the space of about 6 hours; I really enjoyed the experience but the ending left me emotionally spent for several days.
I read The Hunger Games trilogy in a few days and again, I really enjoyed it but it was hardly the shiniest of endings. I don’t think I even need to mention how Song of Ice and Fire will get you to grips with a character, make you love them, just to kill them off with complete ease.
I have very conflicted feelings about what the ending of a book should be. There are so many aspects to consider that it’s even hard to know where to start. Let’s take a look at trilogies and series’ to start with.
Of course I’m going to bring up Harry Potter (I will never stop) and that ending, the whole ‘twelve years in to the future’ thing. In the film it’s just downright ridiculous (I’m not sure there’s any funnier sight than seeing Rupert Grint with some ginger fluff stuck to his chin and what appears to be a cushion fastened under his jacket), and I’m not even going to go into my opinions about the name choices.
But I always felt a little cheated with the ending. Of course evil was going to be defeated without Harry actively using any forbidden incantation to kill Voldemort – that would just have been a huge plot hypocrisy if he had defeated him in any other way. And yes, I realise it’s YA/kids book, but they were published when I was a kid so this is an opinion of someone that really grew up with the series.
But did Harry really need to live? Did everyone have to be part of the perfect family where everyone’s married with 2.5 kids and no one’s ever bullied ever again? It just didn’t feel natural to me.
Now let’s look at The Hunger Games. A dystopian trilogy where kids from the age of twelve upwards have to learn it’s kill or be killed. Yet again, evil was overthrown, societies built again from the ashes, and so on. I get that it’s ‘gritty’ and ‘realistic’, but does the ending have to be so glum? Is there no light for Katniss?
Please understand that I am not one of these people who are never satisfied by anything. I didn’t mind the ending to The Hunger Games, I just found it predictable. I didn’t really mind the ending to Harry Potter but that was predictable too. That’s the problem – finding a balance between unpredictability and realism.
Often people will argue that a negative ending to a book is brave and realistic, and sometimes I’m inclined to agree. Me Before You has a devastating ending and yet I feel the choices the author made throughout the book were extremely brave as they opened her up to a lot of criticism.
You could guess how the novel would end, but would always hope that something would happen to change the events. Of course nothing did, and the ending certainly was realistic, brave, and ultimately heart-breaking.
But how truly realistic is it to have a sad ending? In real life, happiness is just as equal a factor in life to sadness. The majority of people don’t live their lives in constant misery and usually negative situations, when defeated, end with at least some level of positivity.
And how brave is it really to have a negative ending? Speaking from my own limited experience with creative writing I find it a hell of a lot easier to write a negative ending than to write a happy ending that doesn’t seem like a ‘cop out’.
It is incredibly hard to put your characters through a traumatic situation and then all of a sudden give them a happy ending. Writers that can give their characters a ‘happy ever after’ without it seeming cheesy or misplaced are, in my opinion, better writers than those that go along with the misery factor.
As you can probably tell, I’m not averse to a happy ending. I like reading novels where the protagonist is pushed to their limit and yet can still have a happy life.
I don’t necessarily believe it is always the writer’s responsibility to be realistic because at the end of it all, reading is a form of escapism and a source of fantasy.
If you are in a difficult situation in your life, to read a character defying all the odds and coming out of their trials with their happiness intact is encouraging to a reader.
Bearing all this in mind however, don’t give me a bullshit fairy tale ending. I’m of course referring to Fifty Shades Freed (yes, I’ve read the trilogy, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands, okay?). I don’t appreciate happiness for the sake of it. And I certainly don’t appreciate the ‘ultimate female fantasy’ being presented with 1950s rose tinted glasses.
To conclude? I believe a strong writer of any genre, be it YA, erotica, chick lit or dystopia, can present a happy ending just as realistically as a sad ending. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom but please, please don’t give me happiness for the sake of it.
Do you think negative endings are always brave and realistic, or would you like to see some more happily ever afters? What happy endings have you read that broke the predictability mould?