Saturday, May 28, 2011

When they die in the end

I thought about posting this question on Facebook, but realized it's a little more involved than that format allows.

Here's the thing; today I'm finishing up a novel (reading) in which the main character dies in the end. I didn't know this was how the book ended when I began reading it. It's a book by one of my favorite authors, about one of my favorite historical events of the early 19th century. The book is based on the life of a real individual and the storyline follows that life faithfully.

About halfway through reading the book, which I've thoroughly enjoyed, I became so interested in this individual that I googled him and learned the end of his story--and realized by the dates in the front of the book that the novel I was reading would cover his death.  

Ruh Roh, said Scooby-Doo.

By that time I was so invested, and the writing was so good, and I was so deeply attached to this character, I decided to finish it anyway.

Now, with a few pages to go, it's breaking my heart. I can read about a page at a time and then have to put the book down, my heart wrenched with what I know is about to happen to this character. How can this book have even a satisfying ending? Will this character achieve any of the inward goals he's had all along, the longings of his soul that have never been fulfilled? Or will it only be in death, somehow, that he finds fulfillment? I can see that as a possible outcome.

I'll come back later today, or whenever I can bring myself to finish this story and say good-bye to this wonderful character, and share my thoughts in the comment section.

Qs4U: Would you read a novel if you knew going in that the MC dies in the end? Have you ever felt cheated when a main character died at the end of a novel, and you didn't see it coming? 

In answer to that last one, I certainly have. In answer to the former, if the writing was good, if it sang for me, if the setting and story world were richly drawn and fascinating, then yes, I probably would.


  1. I've finished it. It was very (very) hard to read the final pages. The last scene was a depiction of his death, in excruciating detail of thought, senses, and action. I was tempted to hurl the book away every few paragraphs. And yet... the author did what I'd hoped. He'd woven a deep desire into this character from the earliest scenes, and that desire is fulfilled in the moments leading up to his death.

    Of course I'll never know what the real man was thinking during this final act of life. The act and its aftermath is documented by eyewitnesses, but this man wasn't very literate himself, and none of his own writings, if any ever existed, have survived. But the emotional impact and resonance the author created will always be with me. And I'll always wonder, did he die this well? I hope so.

    I'm going to hunt down a good biography about him next, if one exists.

  2. Lori, I read a lot of WWI fiction, and the death of the main character is almost a requirement in a lot of those novels (g). There are many where it doesn't seem a sure thing, and I hold out hope of a different ending, but I'm yet to come across one where the death has disappointed me. Rather, I've always found that stories where the author has tackled such an incredibly difficult thing have been done with really close consideration for the reader and the desired impact, and invariably I've finished them feeling absolutely changed and moved.

    I hope you did find it satisfying in the end, if sad- it's hard to say goodbye to a great character.

  3. Claire, Maybe I found it easier to accept this time because it was based on the life of a real man, and his death is well documented.

    However. In general I'd rather have an ending where the main character lives beyond the last page, changed and grown as a person for the journey they've taken. Not necessarily a happy ending (in that they achieved all their goals, won the prize, got the girl, whatever), but that they move on from the novel a better person in some way. One of my novels has just such an ending.

    It's the moving on for the character that for me is key to reading satisfaction. I love being moved and changed through fiction, but I'd rather do it without experiencing the grief. *s*

    But I don't regret reading the book I just finished. As I said, probably because that's how the real story ended, so I can't hold it against the author for making that choice. *g* In fact, I think he did a masterful job of giving the character a deep and unfulfilled desire, and hitting beating that drum of longing just often enough throughout the story to remind the reader, then fulfilling that desire in the last moments of the character's life, to soften the horrendous blow of his death. And oh boy, it was horrendous.

    I can see how much thought and care must go in to making a story like this satisfying on some level. It demanded much in that way from me while crafting the ending to the book I mentioned above, in which neither of the main characters die, but neither do they achieve a certain goal that I intended them to achieve at the outset.

    I aim to write a sequel for them. *g*