Confession time: I hate ambiguous endings


Have you ever experienced this? You’re reading along, loving a book, absolutely positive that it is going to be a 4- or 5-star read. And then it ends. Only it doesn’t. Not really. The author has performed that clever little trick called the “ambiguous ending.” What happens next? Does the couple end up together? Is that really the murderer the detective is locking up? Will she ever get her life back? Your guess is as good as mine – and, to be honest, it really ticks me off!

I know that a lot of people consider ambiguous endings brave or true-to-life. They like deciding how the story ends. Not me. That is the author’s job, for heaven’s sake! I haven’t invested 300-some (or 400- or 500-some) pages in this story only to have to decide for myself how things turn out. An ambiguous ending can take what was a totally enthralling read and make me hurl the freaking book across the room. Honestly, I think I’d rather read a book with a terrible ending than an unclear one.

I wasn’t going to name any titles in this post, but I changed my mind. I now christen the following books “hurl-worthy:”

Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Second Nature by Jacquelyn Mitchard

So, am I on my own on this one? Tell me why I’m wrong – or why you agree with me!

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39 Responses to Confession time: I hate ambiguous endings

  1. Julie@my5monkeys
    Twitter: aprilmom00
    says:

    Yes agree with you and add also Forever by Maggie , and agree with you on the Before I go to sleep too book.

    I about tossed that book too and so many questions about characters I had grown to love and it was vague.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Julie – I forgot about Forever! Only I didn’t really mind it with that one as much, for some reason….

  2. Bernadette says:

    LOL – love your rant :) I happen to like ambiguous endings most of the time – as you say it’s a bit like life – but I can understand why you don’t. Funnily enough I’m less forgiving of such endings in movies – there I want it all nicely tied up.

  3. bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    says:

    I generally don’t like ambiguous endings but sometimes they work for me.

  4. Marg
    Twitter: MargReads
    says:

    I would include In the Woods by Tana French in this list!

    • I was going to mention this one too! I’m also not a fan of ambiguous endings.

      • CarrieK
        Twitter: booksandmovies
        says:

        Marg & Avis – I forgot about that one! Yes, the ending drove me crazy – though it wasn’t so much ambiguous as just completely unresolved. Argh!

  5. Susan says:

    yes I agree, I typically like endings resolved. Add the novel “Smilla’s Sense of Snow” to your list, probably many more which I can’t think of at the moment …

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Susan – I haven’t read Smilla – I’ll avoid it now!

    • I really disliked this book, though I didn’t remember that the end was ambiguous. I just thought it was boring. Come to think of it, maybe I didn’t make it to the end!

  6. Melissa
    Twitter: myeclecticbooks
    says:

    I agree! It’s the rare ambiguous ending that is actually satisfying.

  7. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    Heh heh. Yes, I nearly hurled “Before I Go To Sleep”, not for the ambiguous ending, but for the contrived, convenient ending. That makes me madder than the ambiguous one. In fact, I loved everything about “The Little Stranger”. Now THAT worked for me. Sometimes I think authors just do it to be avante garde, but it doesn’t really contribute to the overall plot. I like the open endings when they make sense. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t like them ever.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Sandy – I don’t think I’m avant garde enough – I just don’t like them, like your mom. :)

  8. irene says:

    Sometimes I like them, sometimes I think the author is sick of writing and just doesn’t know what to do. I agree that Tan French did this in In The Woods, I was so ticked I haven’t read anything else of hers.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Irene – I was so mad about the end of In the Woods, but a lot of people told me The Likeness was even better, so I continued with the series and have loved every other title.

    • I second what Carrie said: I enjoyed her next two novels much better than her first!

  9. Tanya/ dog eared copy
    Twitter: dogearedcopy
    says:

    I just finished a book like that, Invisible (by Paul Auster.) The book made me feel kinda stupid for not “getting it” and then, I began to wonder what the whole point of the book was. Then I decided that I didn’t care because it wasn’t even “lit-fic” good, it was just there as an exposition of Auster’s skills in evoking male angst. Oh yay, now he can go hang out with Ian McEwan and Michael Cunningham and compare notes… :-/

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Tanya – your comment has me laughing – I think Ian McEwan is completely over-rated!

  10. jenn aka the picky girl
    Twitter: picky_girl
    says:

    I don’t like ambiguous endings because I don’t think many writers do them well. To me, it just leaves a book feeling unfinished, and I hate that.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jenn – I agree – I don’t like it when the ending is unsatisfying.

  11. I don’t mind them in certain cases. It really depends on the book. What I hate is the non-ending. I think there is a fine line between the two. I need to feel some degree of closure. Do all the strings need to be tied? Not always.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – I agree – I don’t need every little string to be tied, but to leave major plotlines hanging? That drives me nuts!

  12. Lisa Munley says:

    2 words = ME TOO. I just don’t like to think that hard. Tell me how it ends, dear author! They are YOUR characters, YOU get to decide! That’s why I’m reading the book, to find out what happens. Don’t make me guess! If I wanted to decide how I think it should end, I’d write the book myself ;)

  13. Kailana says:

    Oh, me too! I just read the book… I want an ending…

  14. Arti
    Twitter: Arti_Ripples
    says:

    I used to dislike ambiguous endings. They left me with a sense of loss when I finished a book. But in recent years, I’ve started to like them more and more, especially with movies. I find there are an increasing number of good movies with ambiguous ending nowadays, and they’re absolutely intriguing. e.g. The Grey (with Liam Neeson). I haven’t read the books you mention here, but I guess it depends on the plot and the intention of the authors. I know what you mean, it can be frustrating if clarity is called for. ;)

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Arti – I think while I generally don’t like endings like that , I also go through stages – when things are unsettled and stressful in my own life, I want a story that is complete and doesn’t leave me hanging!

  15. Jeane says:

    I haven’t read any of those titles you mention, but I really do get annoyed at ambiguous endings. They drive me crazy sometimes. I just want to know what happened!

  16. Michelle says:

    I fear I am in the minority when I say that I like ambiguous endings. They may bother me initially, but I would rather allow the readers to choose their own ending then have a novel end in a contrived fashion or with something that does not remain true to the novel.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Michelle – I don’t like contrived endings or endings that ring false, either – so I guess if I had to choose, I’d rather have things left open-ended. But ultimately, I’d rather have a really well-written, authentic, satisfying ending!

  17. Kathleen says:

    Of the ones you mention I have only read Before I go to Sleep and agree that the ending drove me nuts. When I discussed it with my book club it was the number one complaint about the book that everyone really liked…up until the end! I’m interested to see how they handle the ending in the film they are making.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Kathleen – me, too! I really hope they give the movie an actual ending.

  18. priyanka says:

    I suffer from major OCD when it comes to ambihuous endings. its like the author is doing the easy job of rambling on for 300 odd pages and expects the reader to do the toughest job. i think thats’ infuriating! i just cant take it, especially if i really love the 300 odd pages of rambling!