Do you always want the happy ending?

Recently I read this article on The Guardian website, which made me actually want to post an argumentative comment underneath it (don’t worry, I didn’t – I know it would only be a downward spiral from there). In her blog post entitled ‘Sob stories: classic books I’m too cowardly to finish’, Imogen Russell Williams claims that she has been unable to finish an assortment of books simply because of the tragic events that befall innocent, blameless characters. Examples include Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and pretty much everything by Steinbeck (this alone was enough to annoy me). Williams claims ‘I find them simply too painful to read in their entirety’.

To be honest, if someone can’t actually stomach anything tragic happening to a few fictional characters, I suggest they stop reading all together. What would be the point of a book which didn’t occasionally tug at the heart strings, or make you wonder at how fate can seem so cruel? Good fiction often makes you root for its protagonist, but it would be very dull if everything always finished neatly with a ‘And they lived happily ever after’. And let’s face it, it’s how the real world works – bad things often do happen to perfectly good people, and the best literature reflects this. I honestly can’t think of many great books that don’t have some element of tragedy in them. Williams is going to have to miss out on a large portion of the most celebrated books, not to mention a huge chunk of Shakespeare’s plays.

But perhaps I have a strange penchant for tragedy in my choice of books; my favourites, after all, do include Steinbeck’s works, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. And you might have noticed I’m a fan of Shakespeare (especially his tragedies).

I’m interested to know: does anyone else share Williams’s inability to read heart-rending books?

Sara Magness, Editorial Administrator

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2 thoughts on “Do you always want the happy ending?”

  1. I can’t imagine what she must read. The “Hollywood Ending” only works so many times. Some of the best stories I’ve ever read had me bawling like a baby, barely able to see the words through the tears with tissues bawled up in my hand. I wouldn’t have them any other way. The stories lose meaning and punch without tragedy. Reading would be rather boring.

  2. I recently finished Jojo Moyes Me After You which has a pretty big, heart-string-tugging issue at its core. I did wonder as I was reading it whether Moyes would maneouvre the characters down a more placid, happy ever after route. I mean you find this book in the chick lit / women’s fiction area of a shop, so I wouldn’t have been surprised. Instead, the story was quite brave and didn’t shrink from dealing with some really tragic moments. Some people may think, pointing out the shocking pink / glittery books in this genre that you couldn’t get anything more frivolous. But in my opinion the best chick lit includes difficult, often painful elements that make the sweet ones even sweeter.

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