August 24, 2009

The Little Stranger

I finished The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It falls into this category: "Books I loved all the way through, skipping other activities to read them---and then got to the end and was disappointed because there was not the kind of careful explanation I wanted."

I don't like books to leave me wondering and speculating. I am not someone who thinks to herself with a shrug, "Isn't it wonderful to leave some things UNKNOWN in this unsurprising world!" or "Well, there are things that just defy explanation." That might be fine for real life when there's no other choice, but not for fiction: NOTHING defies explanation in FICTION. The creator of the book's world is the author; all things are known to the author---and so I want those things revealed to me kthanx.

I realize not everyone wants this. Some of us like little Belgian detectives tying up all the loose ends, and some of us would rather stare thoughtfully into space thinking over the various possibilities. And at least The Little Stranger isn't the kind of book that makes it clear the author got caught up in leaving tantalizing details but then couldn't think of an ending that made sense with them (Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult, I am looking in your direction); it's one of those old-fashioned stories where the narrator is telling a story that happened to him, and he never did find out the reason it happened, and so we don't either. It's a subtle difference, and one that's meaningful to me---BUT I STILL WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED. Supernatural or not? And if supernatural, what KIND of supernatural? And if not supernatural, what KIND of not-supernatural, and HOW? TELL ME, SARAH WATERS. I DEMAND TO KNOW. If I don't find out, a part of my dream-self will detach and leave scary scribbles under the paint of your house. Well, or I'll be PRETTY FRUSTRATED. One or the other.

25 comments:

Shelly said...

HATED Plain Truth. Am really sick of Jodi Picoult's "surprise ending", which too often is lame and senseless.

Have you read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire. VERY satisfying explanations and endings on those two. LOVE.

Ruthie said...

Swistle, just curious, did you see the movie "Doubt" and what did you think of that kind of ending?

Shannon said...

I am so with you on the "wrap it up neatly and top with a bow" endings of stories. I hate not knowing DEFINITELY how/what/why something happened. I don't want to use my imagination. That's why I read your book, to be ENTERTAINED and SPOON FED. Thank you very much!

Natalie said...

Never could get into Jodi Picoult, I RARELY don't finish a book, yet three years later, The Tenth Circle sits unfinished.

As far as ambiguous endings go: I do not like them here or there, I do not like them anywhere! Give me closure, I have enough unresolved issues in my real life, thanks. (Although the somewhat ambiguous ending in "The Post-Birthday World" wasn't too annoying).

I know Ruthie wasn't asking me, but I'm going to put in my 2 cents anyway. I didn't care about Doubt's ending because I had pretty much lost interest in the whole thing by that point. I didn't really care and laughed at Meryl Streep when she cried because it was so over the top!

Holly said...

Ha! That should be an official book genre, just so you know ahead of time. I felt that way about Tana French's Into the Woods. The story was so engrossing I pretty much ignored my boyfriend until I finished it -- only to not get the explanation as neat as I wanted it.

I want a bow, damnit! :)

As for Jodi Piccoult...HATE!

Swistle said...

I haven't seen Doubt, so now I'm really curious!

Nowheymama said...

I completely agree--about both books and movies.

Whimsy said...

Ha ha ha! Awesome.


I think that I'd like a little Belgian Detective to follow me in MY life and tie things up with a nice explanation.

Does anyone know where we can get one of those?

the new girl said...

I'm am the same way in this regard.

I like handle-bar mustaches on my Belgian Detectives, too.

Leah Rubin said...

Gotta see/read Doubt-- best ever, and the only possibly excusable vehicle for which the unspecified ending made sense. (Unlike that sentence.)

But yes-- ALL OTHER BOOKS should come to definitive endings, complete with closure and sealing wax and finality. End of story!

Kelsey said...

Amen! I always feel like I SHOULD appreciate when books do that, but really I'm just kind of annoyed.

shriek house said...

Oh ho ho, do I have the book for YOU. Try "The Likeness" by Tana French but do make sure you have no immediate engagements for about 36 hours before cracking the cover. It is a sequel to her "In the Woods" but I read them out of order and they're not codependent and OH MY GOD The Likeness was sooooo delicious and the ending so precise I practically burped when I finished.

(How can anyone *not* love a gargantuanly moustached detective named Hercule, anyway??)

Katy said...

Give me the Belgian detective!!!

Have you read Thirteenth Tale--I found it well-writte and interesting (the two are often mutually exclusive) AND the ending was cool/wrapped everything up nicely.

halloweenlover said...

I am the SAME WAY!!! I just want you to tie it all up for me in a pretty ending, those are my favorite books. Have you read The Shadow of the Wind? Just finished it and LOVED IT.

Also, surprisingly, I just watched Doubt today and Wow. Loved it.

Laura said...

I agree that I don't like those kinds of messy endings in novels... but I don't mind in short stories. I once wrote one in which I received several complaints because every loose end wasn't neatly tied up. But if I had neatly tied it up, it would've turned into a novel instead of a short story. That's the real difference, I think... Novels should have all the loose ends completed, while short stories don't necessarily have that done.

maggiecheung said...

Someone else mentioned it already, but that's EXACTLY how I felt about 'In The Woods'. I was SO disappointed in that ending.

Laura said...

A massive DITTO from me on Into the Woods - an awesome book, right up until the end, when I threw it against the wall in utter frustration at having reached the last page, and NOT knowing the answer. Can Shriek House comment on whether the sequel clears up the mystery in the first and/or leaves its own ambiguous/monumentally unfair ending?

Leah said...

I loved the stories about the little Belgium detective when I was little! Brings back happy memories.

Clare said...

Re In the Woods:
The sequel is told from Cassie's POV, not Rob's. Rob is mentioned only in passing. The Likeness is really good, though. And the ending is not nearly as ambiguous as it is in In The Woods.

shriek house said...

What Clare said... "The Likeness" is very loosely a sequel, in that we know the protagonist and her history *somewhat* from meeting her as a supporting character in the first book.

I much preferred it to "In the Woods" and now that you mention it, perhaps the utterly opaque ending is the reason.

shriek house said...

I mean, In the Woods has the opaque ending, not The Likeness. Urgh. Late.

Holly said...

Oh I'm so happy to hear all this! I've been wanting to crack open The Likeness but haven't for fear of double duping with the ambiguous endings. Oddly enough, I picked up a Sarah Waters book in the interim...haha

SIL Anna said...

It seems like Sarah Waters always introduces supernatural elements, and leaves one in suspense about them, only to have them totally debunked much later. But now I must read the book, just to know what you're talking about.

StephLove said...

Don't read Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. It's one of my very favorites, but the end does leave a lot up to the reader's imagination. My students always hated that when I used to teach it.

Astarte said...

I do not like this EITHER!!! I agree totally that authors should just pony up already. To me, it says that either they couldn't think of a way to tie it up, they ran out of creativity, or their agent was screaming to GET THE THING TO PRINT ALREADY!!! Whenever that happens, I refuse to ever buy another book by that author.