In this essay in the New York Times, David Greenberg explores the notion of disappointing last chapters in otherwise good books. He focuses mainly on non-fiction social commentary, like Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason, discussing how authors will frequently contradict the arguments they’ve been making throughout their books with unexpectedly hopeful—or incongruously dour—conclusions. While I’m more of a reader of fiction than non-fiction, I’ve certainly noticed similar disappointing last chapters in many otherwise lovely novels.
Take Little Bee by Chris Cleave for example. I was absolutely enraptured by this story of a Nigerian orphan and her entanglement with a white, middle class family from small town Britain—it was one of those novels that I stayed up way too late reading. Now, I don’t want to discourage anyone from picking up what really is a good book, nor do I want to give away the ending, but man—was that a disappointing last chapter! Also, I usually enjoy David Nicholls’s books—they aren’t particularly complex, but they always offer well-crafted, entertaining stories (hello, Starter for Ten!). His most recent novel, One Day, was quite a fun read… until that final chapter. Again, I don’t want to give anything away, but Nicholls whipped out a plot twist that even the best, most skilled, most celebrated writers can only ever successfully employ—sometimes. This was not a successful employment. And that is all I will say about that.
Have you read any books that you really enjoyed, up until the disappointing end? Does a bad ending ruin your enjoyment of a book, or do you still consider some books to be good, despite their flawed conclusions?