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How much do endings matter?

January 9, 2012

Lev Grossman (author of The Magicians and The Magician King) wrote in Time recently: “I often find that after a month or two I can’t remember the ends of novels at all, even novels I loved — even detective novels, where the whole (putative) point of the book is the big reveal at the end. Oddly, the meanings of books are defined for me much more by their beginnings and middles than they are by their endings.”

And here I’ve been thinking all these years that I’m the only one who can never seem to remember the endings of books (and movies, too). The beginnings and middles of novels are where the “meat” is – they’re where we readers are concentrating so hard on getting into the book, immersing ourselves, absorbing everything that happens and anticipating what might happen next. Perhaps one reason why beginnings and middles stick with us more easily, and for longer, than endings do is because we invest so much thought and focus into them. Also, they just take longer. I might be “in the middle of” a  great novel for a week or two–but typically I’m only “at the end” for a short few hours, or perhaps the last 50 pages. Sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination, that sticks with us as readers.

Or, is it the writing itself that makes us forget or gloss over endings? Grossman writes, “Nowadays when I’m chatting about a novel with friends, I almost don’t bother to add, ‘it kind of fell apart towards the end,’ because I’m a bit surprised when a book doesn’t. Again: not a disaster. A novel with a bad middle is a bad book. A bad ending is something I’ve just gotten in the habit of forgiving.”

Read Lev’s full essay here.

Is the ending any more or less important than the rest of a book? What do you think?

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