The Sweet Sorrow of Endings

I have done it!  I have finished my latest historical romance!
Hooray, I hear you say. At last.
About time.champagne to celebrate book endings

writer worries waiting for editor's verdict

It has been polished, re-polished and sent winging its merry way to The Editor, the god-like creature who will pronounce judgement upon my baby. As some old writer hack said, “parting is such sweet sorrow.”
It is an anxious time.

But while I wait, chewing my nails to the quick, I have been pondering on Life, the Universe and…


Endings: the joy of typing The End on a manuscript

The end, the finish, finale, culmination, conclusion. It sounds so, well, final, doesn’t it?
But we know it isn’t.

In a romance, when the hero takes the heroine in his arms at the last page for the Happy Ever After ending, we know that in real life that isn’t the end at all, it’s just the beginning of another chapter but it is left to the reader to make of that what they will. Either to leave the characters to their HEA or to imagine them caught up in future trials and tribulations.

Unless, that is, the pesky author writes a sequel, which we then just have to read, to satisfy ourselves that our cherished hero and heroine are still safe and happy.

C. E. Brock illustration for the 1895 edition of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice (Chapter 6) Courtesy Wikimedia Commons



Of course, some authors help us out.

At the end of P&P dear Jane ties up everything very neatly in a couple of paragraphs, describing Lydia and Wickham’s precarious lifestyle, the reconciliation with Lady Catherine and generally suggests that All Will Be Well.

That is good enough for me.



Life Is Full of Endings…

Leaving school, quitting a job, moving house, divorce, the loss of a loved one…

In the great scheme of things, perhaps coming to the end of a project is a pretty minor thing, but for any kind of artist, you have put time and effort – your heart and soul – into creating something. When you finally decide it is done, there is always a reaction.

Anyone who has been involved in a stage show knows that after the euphoria of the last night party and relief that all that hard work is over, there comes a period of low spirits, of feeling lost. Aimless.

Bookish endings

Bookish endings can have vastly different effects, depending on whether you are the reader or the writer.

In my own case, with my writing hat on, getting the story down is the first priority and that can be difficult. When I actually get to the end of that first draft, my initial reaction is usually, “Thank **** that’s done!”

Of course, once it is revised, polished, edited and actually published, I am much more sanguine. Writing a book is very much like giving birth, joyous, yes, but also long, painful and messy. Thankfully, in most cases, the tedium, pain and mess are soon forgotten and only the joy remains. So much so that writers can’t wait to start the process all over again!

As a reader…

romantic novelist reading aloud

As a reader my reaction upon finishing a book is very different. My favourite books are those that I do not want to end.

Also, books that I can return to, time and time again, getting more out of them with each reading.

This applies to almost all Georgette Heyer’s historical romances. These Old Shades, to name but one. Or Sylvester. Cotillion maybe? Or…..

These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer with antihero the Duke of Avon

Then there are the books where one can heave a satisfied sigh upon completion. Well-crafted crime novels fit this category for me, Dorothy L Sayers, for example,

Lord Peter by Dorothy L Sayers

and the Anne Cleeves Shetland series. I recently listened to Cleeves talking about her books, describing them as “village noir” and herself as a human geographer, using the culture and communities of the islands as well as the landscape as the backdrop for her crime novels. I can disappear into her world very easily.

Romance, of course, should allow the reader that satisfied sigh, even if the story doesn’t always end happily. Romeo & Juliet must be one of the most famous romances of all time, and yet we all know It Did Not End Well for the star crossed lovers.

The Reconciliation of the Montagues and the Capulets. Watercolor by Frederic Ford Leighton (1830-1896), 1854. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


However, Shakespeare knew a thing or two about customer satisfaction. His lovers were united in death and their feuding families were reconciled.

Not the happiest of endings, but satisfying.


Unsatisfactory Endings

This doesn’t only apply to books that end tragically.

In a romance, if I am not convinced the characters deserve their HEA  ending, then a book does not work for me. It is not only in crime novels that I like a certain justice to have been achieved by the end of the book.

I have avoided mentioning specific titles here, as I would hate to spoil anyone’s enjoyment (and books are so subjective, aren’t they?)  but the ending of one book is so well known that I will take a chance on mentioning it.  Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Now, I read this in my early teens and haven’t touched it since (it’s so long and there are millions of other books out there, waiting to be read!). Perhaps I was too fixed upon the love interest rather than the book as a whole, but it left me very unsatisfied. The constant bickering between Scarlett and Rhett wore me out. And Scarlett was so full of herself! She might declare that “Tomorrow is another day” but I never believed that Rhett would come back.

It didn’t help that I had seen the film, and didn’t take to Clark Gable. To a young teen he was, well, old. (Oh dear, now I have probably offended someone. Sorry. But we can’t all like the same types, can we? What a boring world it would be if we did).

Cue a bit of gratuitous eye candy.

handsome dark-haired young man with beard and faraway gaze         Jonas Kaufman in Verdi's OtelloHandsome young man with arms crossed over open shirt Alan Rickman (Nottingham) and Richard Armitage (Gisborne)

Perhaps I should go back and read GWTW again. Maybe. One day. But before that, I have another idea of my own bubbling up which I just need to work on.

You know, to start researching it, getting that first draft done, then writing it up. To the End.

So, dear Reader, how about you?

Are there any books that stand out as particularly satisfying? What are your go-to comfort reads?

And if you have read something with an unsatisfactory ending, have you been brave enough to try something else by that same author, in case it proves to be an absolute gem?

Do tell, dear friends.

Sarah Mallory author image


And talking of HEA endings, my latest Melinda Hammond Regency Romance, Duke’s Folly,  is out now on Kindle…

13 thoughts on “The Sweet Sorrow of Endings

  1. Liz Fielding

    Great blog, Sarah. It touched me on so many levels. And thank for the eye candy. Most welcome! I read Gone With the Wind as a teen and can’t face reading it again to see if my irritation with both Scarlett and Rhett is tempered by maturity. He knew exactly what he was getting but never made the slightest effort to help Scarlett grow up emotionally. He treated her like an over-indulged pet and then walked away when he got tired of her bad behaviour. Hated him.

  2. Elizabeth Bailey

    Oh endings, yes. I get annoyed if deprived of a hopeful HEA at the end of a book. Makes me feel I have wasted my time. The Scarlet and the Black was one of those. Leaving the reader wondering what the heck happened is not playing fair to me. I don’t mind an ambiguous ending. But don’t go killing off the hero!
    As an author, I am usually so glad to be done with the thing by the time I have finished tinkering, I feel kind of blank about it. My interest only revives when it’s gone through the usual revisions and is actually out there waiti g to be read. At which point anxiety kicks in! Is anybody going to like the thing as much as the last one, especially when I am writing a series. The first “I loved your book” sends me straight back to the book to find out why!!

  3. lesley2cats

    I always wondered why GWTW was so popular, neither the film nor the book appealing to me. But then, I didn’t like Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey or Lorna Doone. Funnily enough, I loved Jane Eyre, and of course, Dear Jane (the other one) is a whole different game of croquet. As far as my own endings go, I would never let a murderer get away with it, and I always feel slightly cheated if they are allowed to come to a sticky end and escape justice in other people’s books.

  4. Sophie

    Lots to think about here, Sarah. From a reader’s point of view, I think my perfect Happy Ending is one that clears away what looked like an insuperable obstacle – in other words, leaves me with hope for the characters’ future. Of course, a good wallow in their happiness-of-the-moment doesn’t hurt.

    And as a writer…. well, I waver between two extremes. The first is huge reluctance to let the thing go. (Editors have threatened chloroform and forceps.) The second is sheer lunacy.

    The mother of a friend of mine (along with her eight siblings) always said that the few days after a baby was born she felt as high as a kite and wanted to Do It All Again. Well, that’s me. Can’t tell you how many white-hot first chapters I’ve written after finishing a book, only to fall off the twig in sheer exhaustion somewhere around 4,000 words.

  5. Sarah Post author

    Liz F & Liz B – glad to know I am not alone with GWTW and S & R’s relationship. I am all for a bad boy hero, but he’s got to be there for the heroine when she needs him.

    Liz B and Sophie – the “giving birth” analogy is spot on for a lot of us, isn’t it?

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Amorina!

    Lesley – your books are always satisfying! P D James wrote a crime novel entitled A Certain Justice, so I think she knew what we are saying here 🙂

  6. Sarah Post author

    Jenny – picking up your point on Perfect Happy Endings. I am not too worried about the “Ever After” as long as I can hope (or convince myself) that the characters have a good chance of making it, which is, I think, your pov, too. I have a book in mind (not yet written and may never get done, but who knows?) where the ending is definitely not all happy – one of the main characters is sent off to foreign lands, but ends with the hope (and strong hints) that he will return for his own story.

    Oh, blast! Now he is going to be nagging me again to get on with it…..

  7. Sarah Post author

    Liz B – we are all on tenterhooks about whether readers will love our books, aren’t we? Just to know someone enjoyed it is so encouraging

    1. Joanna

      Your blog made me think about The Count of Monte Cristo (recently reread, to marvel at 1000 pages of amazingly convoluted and masterly plotting — recommended for anyone who hasn’t read it). When I first read it, as a teenager, I wanted Monte Cristo to go back to his first love at the end and was disappointed by what, for me, wasn’t the HEA. When older, and knowing more about the period of the story, I accepted that that was impossible and Dumas’s ending was as good as it could be in the circs. But in at least one film version (with Depardieu who is not my ideal hero) they changed the ending and he did go back to his first love. Possibly what modern readers want? Even if totally improbable? After all, Monte Cristo states that his first love was “prostituted” so he’s not likely to go back to her, is he?

  8. Sarah Post author

    Joanna – I love Monte Cristo! I read it when I was quite young, after watching the BBC teatime drama (with Alan Badel – I remember it even now!). It was such a great story that I really didn’t mind him finding a new love at the end. Perhaps Dumas explained it well 🙂

    1. Joanna

      Yes, it was the Alan Badel BBC series that got me hooked too. Terrific actor and played the part wonderfully. Unlike Depardieu 😉

  9. Peg Serenyi

    Gone with the Wind is not intended as a romance. It’s a picture of an indomitable woman, not always nice (use of black convicts in a business) who overcomes obstacles to triumph. Rhett admires her chutzpah, but in the end is turned away by her moral blindness. Scarlett is an interesting character study of an American type, not a romance.

  10. Sarah Post author

    Peg – thanks for dropping by. I quite agree, GWTW is not a romance, but even knowing that doesn’t make the ending more satisfying for me 🙂 Perhaps one day I will go back and read it again, but I doubt it will make me like Scarlett any better. Or Rhett. I am just thankful that we don’t all like the same things in reading – what a boring world it would be if we did!

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