Last week was all about how important the beginning of a novel is to engage readers, but what about the other end of the spectrum?
A couple of years ago I read ‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh when it was recommended to our book club by our local librarian. It was a new release, by a new author I knew nothing of, but the premise sounded interesting. Now, this is a book that has a great beginning “For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned.” In the first couple of pages we are introduced to Victoria, a foster kid being kicked out of care on her eighteenth birthday and we learn Victoria has a unique gift for understanding the meaning of flowers.
As I read the book I found myself loving it more and more. Diffenbaugh was not only weaving a deliciously wonderful tale, but she was doing it in a brutally honest way, without it being a pity-fest. Three quarters of the way through, I remember thinking that this may turn out to be my favourite book of all time.
And then I got to the end and I wanted to throw the book across the room and somehow track Diffenbaugh down and scream at her. I won’t give the ending away here for anyone who hasn’t read it, but I was heart-achingly disappointed. I felt let down by the author for taking me on such a wonderful, honest journey only to destroy the ending and the chance ‘The Language of Flowers’ had to take the number 1 position on my list of favourite novels.
Ironically, in the acknowledgements (I always read the acknowledgments), Diffenbaugh mentions how she rewrote the ending numerous times. I wonder if I would have preferred one of her other endings.
An agent who read the full of ‘The Point’ last year took the time to offer feedback. This is unusual as most of the time rejections (even on fulls) are pretty ‘form’ in nature and very rarely do we querying writers get to find out why we’re being rejected. Among other issues, she mentioned that she didn’t like my ending. Not only did she not like it, but that there was no way she could sell it to a publisher with the ending it had! Ouch. I loved my original ending. I thought it was clever and unique. So, to hear this was pretty hard. And you’ll never guess what else she said. “Your readers will be angry with you if you leave the ending like that.” No prizes for guessing where my mind went when I heard that – back to my experience with ‘The Language of Flowers’.
Needless to say, I changed the ending. But, is it better? I don’t know. I guess if I ever get it published, you can all be the judge of that.
So now, as a writer myself, I am acutely aware of endings and how important it is to get them right, and how hard it is to know whether you’ve got it right or not. Beginnings bring us in to the story, but it’s the end that we remember, and it’s the end that can turn a good book into a brilliant book.
Would I still recommend ‘The Language of Flowers’ to readers looking for a good book? Yes.
Would I recommend it with as much passion as I would if I’d loved the ending? No.
Did it make my list of Favourite Five Fiction? Well, you’ll have to read next week’s blog to find that out.
What about you? Have you ever been disappointed in a book’s ending? Have you ever wanted to throw a book across the room because the ending has made you so mad? Let me know below.