From The Washington Post:
The novel I’m reading has a terrible ending. But I’ll never tell you its title.
Such is the necessary restraint of a book reviewer — or at least a courteous one.
I go back and forth about the propriety of burying my appraisal of a book’s conclusion. After all, so much of how we feel about a novel depends on how the novel ends. But there’s really no way to critique a story’s ending without giving it away, which, according to my mail, is the single most irritating thing a reviewer can do. So, week after week, I bite my tongue, withholding whatever I might think about finales.
I know other critics — great critics — don’t share my reticence. This summer, in the Wall Street Journal, Elizabeth Winkler started her review of Maggie O’Farrell’s “Hamnet” by summarizing the final scene, a maneuver so brazen that my eyebrows still rise when I think of it. And James Wood, the Great Spoiler himself, once splayed out the whole conclusion of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” — complete with suspense-squashing quotations.
. . . .
But as much as readers don’t want reviewers commenting on endings, they definitely like to comment on endings themselves. Whenever conversation turns to books, the single most common statement I hear from friends is: “Yeah, but I didn’t like the ending.” I give a pained smile and change the subject.
. . . .
Last month, the online retailer OnBuy.com sifted through reviews on Goodreads to identify the Books With the Most Disappointing Endings. The methodology — searching comments for “ending” and variations of the word “disappointing” — feels a bit dubious, but the list is an irresistible walk down memory lane.
According to OnBuy’s final tally, British writers are particularly disappointing. That hack William Shakespeare wrote the worst finale of all time. In the immortal words of Bart Simpson’s friend Milhouse: “How could this have happened? We started out like Romeo and Juliet, but instead it ended in tragedy.” Booker winner Ian McEwan came in at a shameful No. 2. (For the record, I think “Atonement,” including its mind-blowing conclusion, is brilliant.) And gazillionaire writer J.K. Rowling magically takes two spots.
. . . .
Here’s OnBuy’s list of the Top 12 Most Disappointing Endings:
- “Romeo and Juliet,” by William Shakespeare.
- “Atonement,” by Ian McEwan.
- “Requiem,” by Lauren Oliver.
- “The Sweet Far Thing,” by Libba Bray.
Link to the rest at The Washington Post
For the record, PG thinks the ending of Romeo and Juliet is excellent — unexpected and heart-rending.
Shakespeare had some clichés in his plays (almost everyone else does, as well), but a happy ending for the star-crossed lovers would have been too pat and predictable.