The New Yorker has just run an article on Great Novels with Bad Endings – see http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/11/on-great-novels-with-bad-endings.html. Although I agree with almost every word, it is amusing that this comes from America, where crime novels, especially, often suffer from the lame ending phenomenon. I don’t think it’s because American crime writers run out of imagination before they finish writing; rather, that there is something in-built in the psyche of the American reader – and undoubtedly these authors understand their readers much better than I do – that demands a return to the cosy status quo at the end of the book. Almost all of the many Kellerman novels end with a cheerful family gathering or similar, the evil perpetrator having been killed or gaoled so that the family can dust down the barbecue again. The Hannibal Lecter novels likewise conclude with happy domestic scenes that almost seem to have been superimposed, as if it is essential to bat away the darkness and return to the safe banality of normal life, even at the expense of art. It is America’s own take on ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’! But perhaps this is what crime writing is about: it helps us to make sense of evil and then reassures us that good will always win. The challenge therefore is how to write as powerfully about happiness and security as about dark threats, death and strife. Which authors are able to rise to this? Only Jane Austen springs to mind.
Oh, dear, I’ve taken on the States! Am I just too full of English pride and prejudice?