Too Many and Too Few Endings

Endings are tricky things. Reading Harry Potter tormented me, because I would voraciously read each new magical book in one sitting, the day after its midnight release, forgoing sustenance and improving my bladder control each time. At the same time that I dived through chapter after chapter to reach the thrilling end, impending doom settled over me. Even though reaching the end of the book meant one year and one major plot line played out, with the knowledge that more was to come, I despaired the end every time because it meant J.K. Rowling was that much closer to abandoning the world I grew to love.  In spite of knowing the “ending” to the series, my desire to know more never failed: an ending is never truly the ending. Time goes on for those characters in my mind, but imagining their future never satisfies the way an author’s newest installment can satisfy, nor can I sufficiently imagine an unwritten past for my beloved characters.  The author of any book locks away his or her character’s worlds, and only the author can release them. Art reflects life; we can’t know our future, and even our past hides from us: no “the end” in sight.

David Mitchell masters the non-ending in Cloud Atlas. With his innovative book structure, he manipulates each of his “chapters” by giving us a non-ending, and then messes with us by flashing forward in the future. This technique frustrates me beyond reason! I love fantasy because often, even though we readers don’t know what happens to the characters after the final line of text, at least the hero/heroine usually slays the villain. As in, spoilers: Voldemort dies. Even if, as in many of my favorite series, one minor evil is eradicated and more follow, you can count on some resolution by the end. Mitchell, on the other hand, creatively stops a journal entry mid-sentence, drops interviews mid-action, and provides tantalizing hints in subsequent chapters of the fates of those characters coming before. Jumping to the future just plays with my emotions.  Thankfully, Mitchell redeems himself with his final chapters, the descent back through time.  I get chills figuring out the connections between the stories, realizing that the Zachary’s holograph of Sonmi leads to Sonmi’s interview, which leads backwards and backwards through the time of the novel. So even though we don’t know how each story ends, we are told that time goes on, and relates to the past in a circular fashion. Despite the frustrating nature of the unknown of life’s endings, and the slightly melancholy knowledge that history repeats itself in all its failures and glories, at least Mitchell gives readers catharsis. And makes me happy to have my “evil-vanquished-good-prevails” fantasy!


~ by wisdomtooth13 on March 2, 2012.

2 Responses to “Too Many and Too Few Endings”

  1. Wow, it is great to read someone else vocalise their feelings about non-endings in a way that not only completely reflects my own, but also doesn’t make me feel guilty about ‘not imagining it for myself’ as I have been told before. Thanks very much.

  2. “…an ending is never truly the ending. Time goes on for those characters in my mind, but imagining their future never satisfies the way an author’s newest installment can satisfy…”

    I couldn’t agree more. Well said.


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