I’m still reeling from Atonement. Charlotte Brontë destroyed me with Villette. And, I’m glad the Huffington Post agrees that Liane Moriarty’s bestseller ends with a, well, twist because I was bowled over.
Thing is, I hate surprises. Really, I do. I actually break out in hives at the thought of a surprise birthday party. Whether the surprise is good or bad is irrelevant. I don’t like to be there when it’s happening. My peripatetic childhood, which involved periodically arriving in a new place whose culture (and even language) I didn’t understand made me wary of the unexpected. That, combined with my type-A, OCD nature makes me dread anything I can’t see coming from a good distance. (I will be taking all of this up in therapy some day, do not fear.)
As a result, I am one of those rare people who also appreciates a certain amount of predictability in my reading. Rather than finding a book whose ending I can intuit or guess at a waste of time, I enjoy being able to focus my attention on the author’s prose, character development, and attention to detail. I like category fiction because it generally follows a formula and it’s the skill of the author at things other than surprising us that tends to set these works apart.
So, of course, it irks me no end to admit that some of my most memorable reading experiences have involved not just a surprise ending but a shocking one. My initial response is usually rage and confusion, followed, after a while, by admiration at the author’s ability to yank the rug so forcefully out from under me. It’s so hard to pull off, but when it’s done right, it tends to make the narrative it closes unforgettable—especially when the finale seems organic and not gimmicky. I hate surprises but I tend to end up loving books that surprise me.
What are your favorite surprise endings? And why?