“My needs were simple I didn’t bother much with themes or felicitous phrases and skipped fine descriptions of weather, landscapes and interiors. I wanted characters I could believe in, and I wanted to be made curious about what was to happen to them. Generally, I preferred people to be falling in and out of love, but I didn’t mind so much if they tried their hand at something else. It was vulgar to want it, but I liked someone to say ‘Marry me’ by the end.” (Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan)
About half way through this novel, I realized that I saw no reason why everyone was calling this ‘the best book of 2012’. Sure, the 1970’s cold war/ female British spy scenario was a pretty nifty background, but the plot and characters weren’t doing enough to attract me. The writing was excellent, and the plodding plot was occasionally interrupted by fascinating short stories and extremely well done sex scenes, but until the last few pages I couldn’t see a single reason to recommend a book. Yet, a week after reading it, I feel great about recommending to just about anyone – and the only reason is the last few pages.
You might wonder how I could possibly recommend a 300 page book based solely on the ending, and it would be a great question to ask. If the ending were simply surprising or good it wouldn’t be enough to ensure my recommendation, but this ending is transcendent. It twists your perspective of the entire novel, gives it meaning and substance, and ensures that you will be thinking about it, re-writing the book in your head, for weeks afterwards. In my mind, the whole book is very much about storytelling and authorship, and the ending of the book deepens this theme by shifting the authorship to the reader – since so much is left unsaid, so much implied, and so much left to be retold.
Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Further Reading: The first-person female protagonist reminded me a bit of Ms. Kontent from Rules of Civility. If you are a fan of that fine book, you won’t find the language quite as beautiful, but there is much here to admire. In terms of other books with transcendent endings, I can only come up with one other: A Confederacy of Dunces, where the last sentence turns the book from a comedy into a charming romance.