It’s strange how unexpected and probably quite innocuous things can have a tremendous impact years and years later. As a reader, and as a writer I have a great dislike of what I call unsatisfactory endings. I don’t mean that the end of every book I read or every story I write should be full of joy, laughter, love and happiness – in fact that would be an unsatisfactory ending too if it’s not feasible or realistic within the context of the rest of the plot!
I have just realised when this first struck me – a very long time ago, when I was watching an old black and white film called ‘Last Holiday’. it starred Alec Guinness but had a stellar cast (for those days)
- Wilfrid Hyde-White – in so many films but best known as Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady.
- Sid James – comedian side-kick of Tony Hancock and star of Carry On films
- Bernard Lee – in many, many films, also was M in James Bond films
- Ernest Thesiger – famous stage and film actor
- Lockwood West – father of Sir Timothy West and grandfather of Samuel West
- David McCallum – father of David McCallum the Man From U.N.C.L.E. and NCIS
The story of Last Holiday is very simple; Alec Guinness’s character is diagnosed with a terminal disease so he sells up everything and goes to a fancy hotel in the country, where the other guests mistakenly believe he is a rich man. Because of his supposed wealth all sorts of things happen even though he is very modest and unassuming. He learns that the diagnosis was wrong and he is perfectly healthy, however on his way home from the doctor who tells him this wonderful news he crashes his car and dies.
When I saw the film it made a great impact on me – mainly because of the ending. In a way, if he’d really had the illness and died, it would have been a more satisfactory ending… or if he had survived and the other guests had realised their folly of liking him for his supposed wealth, so he may have been without ‘friends’ but at least he would have learned something. But no… he was dead. After going all the way through the film which I remember thinking as a child was funny and moving and meaningful, suddenly without any thought for the audience, he was dead. I felt annoyed and cheated.
I felt the same about ‘Cold Mountain’ by Charles Frazier; it was a wonderful novel, marvellous, and although long, carried the reader through all the terrible events the main character endured as he walked for months and months, back to the woman he loves. He is almost in sight of her home when he is shot dead… It wasn’t the fact he was killed particularly, but it was the fact that the book just fizzled out after all the struggles – of the characters and the readers.
I mentioned that I have been reading The Red Tent by Anita Diamant; without giving anything away and spoiling it if you haven’t read it – which I recommend you do – the ending is totally satisfactory, even though the characters have had horrific things to deal with.
In my books, I really try very, very hard to create a satisfactory ending – not always happy, and sometimes with a huge and difficult and maybe unachievable challenge for the characters in their future unwritten-about lives…
So maybe, although Last Holiday was a disappointment to me, it taught me a great lesson in my writing – maybe, as my dad would have said, it was a good bad example!
By the way, my featured image is from very happy seals – nothing to do with my post!