Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

You'll wish you never asked...

Oh Helen, I think you're being far too charitable by ascribing anything as concrete as "conclusions" to me! You were possibly confused by my ramblings because I was confused myself in my thinking... But I DID think that your dissection of the flaws with whatever-it-is-she's-trying-to-do-at-the-end were spot-on. I think I dislike epilogues generally because they seem like a cheat, and my desire to know what happens next to the characters is generally best left unsatisfied. T S Eliot wrote of: "the torment of love unsatisfied/The greater torment of love satisfied". Certainly I think a really confident and talented author ought to be able to choose what the ending is and present it to the reader as the necessary/plausible/acceptable conclusion, and have the courage of their convictions, and not then start adding postscripts which undermine the effect of the first ending.

I, personally, need some hope in the ending, but it doesn't have to be wall-to-wall hope or implausible. There's usually SOMETHING one can emphasise to the reader which helps her hope, for example All Quiet on the Western Front, which I think had a masterly ending. Not remotely what I've have thought of for myself, but I'm not the author, so that's part of the point. And the sheer skill of the author helped reconcile me to the ending, and he wasn't so naive as to ignore my (not untypical) need for something to sweeten the pill. Life is, generally, like that, isn't it? Because complete despair never spurred anyone to any sort of positive action - you have to think there's something which could be salvaged, or could be better, to bother even trying. And if I've got a dash of hope in the end, that'll do. I think Patchett supplied that - implausibly, but perhaps not utterly so. Sometimes people ARE brought together by shared grief, and sometimes people CAN love again after bereavment, and sometimes music, or books, or people - or, supremely, grace - DO bring people out the other side.

I know of plenty of real-life personal histories where far more unlikely happy endings have occurred. I think my problem is with the epilogue format. I don't think it's the way to deliver a redemptive ending. I think that particular redemptive ending for that novel would only work if Patchett deployed her considerable skills and imagination to the project, and gave them more time (as experienced by the reader, and not just announced as having passed). Most things worth having take time, don't they? Patchett obviously wasn't committed enough to the material of the epilogue to delay it while she prepared us better for it, but I think it could have been done by lengthening the novel itself to include the material of the epilogue, after suitable and subtle bridging work.

So there you go Helen - my confusion has clarified itself, but into a completely different point, as I've been typing! (One effect I love from this sort of discussion.)