So, let’s talk surprise endings. Although I won’t offer any spoilers, I finished Stig Sæterbakken’s Through the Night yesterday evening, and found myself furrow-browed and slightly irritated at the rug the author had pulled out from under his readers at the last minute. Or tried to, I should say– because Sæterbakken’s eleventh-hour switcheroo, in addition to being not that well executed (it took me a while, and confirmation from a fellow reader, to be convinced that what I thought he wanted us to understand was in fact what I was getting), also didn’t seem to fit the genre or the mood he’d been working with up until that point. Following along an anguished emotional journey for the previous 92% of the tale, it felt as if I’d been thrown suddenly into a sci-fi universe, or, had I been watching a TV series, as if the franchise had been cancelled out of the blue, and the writers had to bring everything to a close with a screeching halt.
It’s not that I’m averse to surprise endings in general; although I don’t remember of what it consisted, I still recall the feeling of being gratefully blown away by the unexpected conclusion of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle– and although I’m probably outing myself as a dope with the following, the last few pages of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake drew everything so clearly together that, although not technically a plot twist, I was so surprised that I was actually comprehending something– most of the seeming nonsense that had come before, in fact– that it felt as if some paradigm had indeed shifted.
Maybe I just want my existential navel-gazing kept pure, and am in the end the sort of rules-loving and unadventurous bourgeois reader Joyce and others would have snickered at. Then again, there’s something to be said for the legitimacy of skill– and in terms of this particular ending, at least, I’m not sure Sæaterbakken was at his best. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the book– but would have to include the mysterious caveat that I found one particular and significant part problematic, and that I couldn’t tell the potential reader more than that.