The End: A Selected List of Best and Worst Book Endings

Imagine you embark on a journey. The going may be slow at first or it may be a bit of a roller coaster ride, but when you arrive near your destination you find yourself facing a dead end. There is no option but to move forward and no turning back. That’s the best metaphor I can come up with to describe my experience of reading a book. When your destination becomes a lame ending it can be quite a letdown. I, the reader, have hung on through thick and thin, and my expectation is some sort of satisfying resolution. Yet, more often than not, I find myself closing the book and either finding myself ambivalent or, worse, disappointed. If the book is well written and the ending fizzles, I will sometimes still recommend the book, but not always.

Here are examples of a few books where the ending left me satisfied and a few that left much to be desired.

Best Endings:

1). To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book summarizes the entire story in this wonderful look back through seasons and life. Brilliant!

2). The Tortilla Curtain by T. Coraghessan Boyle. Heart wrenching from beginning to tragic end. Fabulous, thought provoking until the bitter end.

3). The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. What a marvelous, often heart-breaking journey of death’s experience of humans. The ending sums up everything so nicely in the last line.  Fabulous! 

4). Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. What an iconic line: After all, tomorrow is another day. Unforgettable.

Worst or So-So Endings:

1). The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.

I had other issues with this book. I thought the narrator was a bit pompous, but when she meets her Japanese friend, I am rooting for her. The ending of this book was a prime example of gratuitous death. It was totally unnecessary for the plot. I would not recommend this book mostly because of the ending.

2) The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. I loved just about everything in this unconventional book , except the ending, which was corny and a bit hokey. I was ready to bump this book into my list of top ten dog books until the ending sabotaged my experience of the book. I’d still recommend this book and really enjoyed nine-tenths of it, but what a lost opportunity for brilliance.

3). The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro. A stream of consciousness that is like the energizer bunny. It just keeps going and going right until the end (when I threw the book down in disgust). Not recommended.

4). Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. A fun read with lots of twists and turns, then near the end our hero jumps from an helicopter and parachutes safely to the ground using his jacket. Really?

Which books hold your favorite endings? What endings ruined a book for you?

One Response to The End: A Selected List of Best and Worst Book Endings

  1. I am titling this comment
    “The Final Nail In The Coffin”.
    I have a really hard time with books that end with the title of the book as the last sentence. It is so on-the-nose and hokey that it completely corrupts the entire book. Two examples of this come from one author, Wally Lamb. Both “The Hour I First Believed” and “I Know This Much Is True” end that way. I know it is a petty gripe but it seems either, at worst condescending, or at best, the author has expended all their creative energy and decided these final details, title and final sentence, don’t warrant any extra effort. To a good book, this trick being employed taints an otherwise positive view. To a bad book, it is the final nail in the coffin.

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