SHOULD BOOKS HAVE HAPPY ENDINGS?
I recently had a conversation in a bookshop with a reader, that fictional being who actually buys books and reads them. The average reader, a woman, of course. An American woman living in Berlin, she regularly buys books, English books, mostly fiction. Says she can’t go through the week without the thrilling thought that a pungent novel awaits her in her bed, in lieu of a smelly man, I suppose. This is the consumer the industry studies. Her opinion is what shapes the novels that are written and sold. She is the reason it’s so difficult to publish anything with an individual perspective. She thinks like everyone else.
When I pointed out my book on the shelf, without mentioning who the author was, she laughed at the title, but didn’t pick it up. She pointed out the various titles she’d read and loved. All bestselling works of shocking transparency. The titles alone speak volumes. Of empty pages, conjuring moonlit scenes and happy endings. I did actually read one of them. I do that sometimes just to see what I’m doing wrong. I don’t write happy endings. Principally because life doesn’t have a happy ending.
So I asked the woman if she only reads books with happy endings. She seemed shocked at the suggestion, wondering what I could have meant by it. She said with a curious smile that novels have to have endings that give you hope in your life. Even if not quite happy, they should leave you with a good feeling. Even if the characters are doomed, the reader should be inspired to persevere. All the great novels have happy endings, she actually said.
Like Anna Karenina? I have to ask. The bitch throws herself in front of a train. Is that a happy ending?
In a way it is, she insists. Because the woman, trapped in a man’s world, took matters in her own hands.