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Old 03-31-2011, 02:20 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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Totally Unexpected, Out-of-Left-Field Literary Endings

As I mentioned n the current “Whatcha Reading?” thread, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. It was a very funny portrait of upper class life in interwar Britain, and I enjoyed it immensely.

However… the ending to the novel came completely out of left field. This was truly a strange, “WTF???” ending that nobody who’d read the first 2/3 of the book could possibly see coming. Namely…

SPOILER:


The cuckolded husband decides to chuck it all and go on an adventure in the jungles of South America. He nearly dies, and is rescued by a crazy old man who keeps him prisoner, forcing him to read Charles Dickens novels aloud, for the rest of his life.




Really, a Twilight Zone ending to what had been a witty, cynical comedy of manners.

What other books surprised the heck out of you with bizarre endings that didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book?

Mind you, I’m not looking for mere twist endings. I’m not looking for unexpected killers in mystery novels, interestingly horrifying endings to a horror novel, or absurd endings in absurdly comical novels. Rater, I’m looking for endings that seem completely unrelated to anything that had happened earlier in the novel. Endings that leave you scratching your head and wondering, “Where did THAT come from?”
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Old 03-31-2011, 02:35 PM
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I agree with you so much about A Handful of Dust.

When I read LOTR as a jr high kid, Frodo's 'failure' at the Crack of Doom through me for a loop. I was stunned. Reading back as adult, I see it completely differently, of course.
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:23 PM
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When I was a kid, I thought "Battlefield: Earth" was a pretty entertaining book, but the switch from "overthrow the alien overlords" plot to the "survive in the world of intergalactic banking" plot wasn't something I saw coming!
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:31 PM
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John Gay's 1728 play The Beggar's Opera does this, pretty deliberately:

Quote:
The narrator (the Beggar), notes that although in a properly moral ending Macheath and the other villains would be hanged, the audience demands a happy ending, and so Macheath is reprieved, and all are invited to a dance of celebration, to celebrate his wedding to Polly.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beggar%27s_Opera
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:41 PM
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Atlas Shrugged. I was reading novel about the collapse of society caused by the world's 'movers and shakers' withdrawing due to increasingly draconian government interference in the free market. That was all well and good until the last couple chapters, when it suddenly turned into a science fiction novel.
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:51 PM
Labrador Deceiver Labrador Deceiver is offline
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A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe, was a great book. Then, the author decided he didn't want to write anymore, and provided the reader with an incredibly bizarre ending for the main character.
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:52 PM
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Atlas Shrugged. I was reading novel about the collapse of society caused by the world's 'movers and shakers' withdrawing due to increasingly draconian government interference in the free market. That was all well and good until the last couple chapters, when it suddenly turned into a science fiction novel.
With an endless political manifesto in the middle.
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Old 03-31-2011, 03:54 PM
astorian astorian is offline
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A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe, was a great book. Then, the author decided he didn't want to write anymore, and provided the reader with an incredibly bizarre ending for the main character.
I'd forgotten that one, but you're right

SPOILER:


Both of the main portagonists become avid Zeus-worshippers and apostles of Stoicism.


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Old 03-31-2011, 04:39 PM
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Well, Stephen King often does an "oh crap I have to end this book now" deal - for example, in It
SPOILER:
it's a giant alien spider, sort of? And there's a turtle?
or The Stand
SPOILER:
the Hand of God?
, although I guess neither are exactly as off the rails as you might be looking for. But neither fit what was going on in the book at all.
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Old 03-31-2011, 05:03 PM
3:20:59 or bust 3:20:59 or bust is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Well, Stephen King often does an "oh crap I have to end this book now" deal - for example, in It
SPOILER:
it's a giant alien spider, sort of? And there's a turtle?
or The Stand
SPOILER:
the Hand of God?
, although I guess neither are exactly as off the rails as you might be looking for. But neither fit what was going on in the book at all.
Well, I don't think The Stand ending really is all that out of character. There were a lot of supernatural things going on in that book.

It, on the other hand, well...he was taking a awesome amount of drugs. It's the only way to explain his books during that period.
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Old 03-31-2011, 05:23 PM
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I thought Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind had the biggest "WTF??" cop-out ending I've ever encountered.

SPOILER:
The protagonist didn't escape the attack as described in the beginning of the book. She was actually brutally raped and mutilated, and the entirety of the plot turns out to be her psychotic reaction to that event.
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Old 03-31-2011, 05:55 PM
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A book I read many years ago in French class -- and haven't been able to track down -- was titled "L'homme qui dort cent ans" ("The man who slept 100 years"*) It's overall a nice book about the alienation and difficulty of an American who travels into the future and is unable to adjust to the changes in society.

Then, out of the blue, in the final chapter, it's revealed (without any foreshadowing) that in Australia, they still lived exactly the way it was in America the century before. So he moves to Australia and lives happily.

The ending was probably the worst I've ever seen in a book.

*There is a novel from about the same time called L'Homme qui dort, but it's much more philosophical; maybe the one I read was a parody of that.
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Old 03-31-2011, 06:52 PM
The Man With The Golden Gun The Man With The Golden Gun is offline
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Originally Posted by Zsofia View Post
Well, Stephen King often does an "oh crap I have to end this book now" deal - for example, in It
SPOILER:
it's a giant alien spider, sort of? And there's a turtle?
I thought the part at the end where:
SPOILER:
The boys all have a gangbang with Bev.


was a lot more left-field.
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Old 03-31-2011, 07:29 PM
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Maybe not quite a WTF? but definitely a surprise....
In Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion The reader traverses some 600 pages wondering if sensitive, intellectual Leland Stamper will manage to seduce his beautiful sister-in-law or whether his uber-tough big brother will beat him up and drag her back to his cave by the hair.

In the final chapter beautiful Vivian says "to hell with you both", walks out on her family and her old life, meanwhile the two brothers bury the hatchet and figuratively go dancing off arm-in-arm to do battle with the wilderness and the logger's union.

Not sure what point, if any, Kesey was trying to make (he was tripping when he wrote it), but it's a darn fine novel anyway.
SS
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Old 03-31-2011, 07:31 PM
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I thought the part at the end where:
SPOILER:
The boys all have a gangbang with Bev.
And they were only 11 years old!!

Surprised King wasn't damned for writing child porn.
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Old 03-31-2011, 07:46 PM
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And they were only 11 years old!!

Surprised King wasn't damned for writing child porn.
My mom and I were reading the same copy of 'It' she got the year it came out, her at night and me the next day. She read that part and wouldn't hand the book over to me the next day, told me to finish it when I was older. I snuck it back and finished it. That ending was disgusting and I wish I'd never read it, especially knowing my mom had just read it - yuck.
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Old 03-31-2011, 11:04 PM
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David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, which was this science fiction series where the world is ruled by these seven Chinese warlords who are constantly jockeying for power. Some people criticized the book as anti-Chinese, but I don't think it was. The series was extremely morally ambiguous....you had likeable and "good" characters do some horrible things, and really awful characters make tremendous altruistic sacrifices. The books dealt with themes like stability vs change, order vs freedom. and I found them engaging. Until I got to the last book.

SPOILER:
In the last book, we find out that the character of Howard DeVore, who's always sort of been the villain of the books....DeVore is this European banker who's leading a resistance/terrorist movement against the Chinese warlords based partly on racism and partly on his desire to just liberate the world from the oppressive system of the warlords....we find out he's an extradimensional alien spider creature who is responsible for almost all of the historical evils of mankind, who wants to rape people and then destroy all life on earth. He's beaten and then we find out that the world set up throughout the series is just a simulation and not the "real" world, but all the characters in it are also characters in the real world (although they're different people), and the book ends on a space colony in the real world, which had been set up by a colony ship in the imaginary world.
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Old 03-31-2011, 11:26 PM
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Been trying to think of one, and remembered Darwinia, by Robert Charles Wilson. The story starts in a world where the continent of Europe has been inexplicably replaced in the late 19th century (I think) with a continent on which the life has followed an entirely different evolutionary history. The first part of the story tracks an expedition from the US to explore this continent. Anyway, somewhere around halfway into the book, it is revealed that what caused the world to change suddenly is that

SPOILER:
the whole world is some kind of computer simulation, and some Cthulhu-ish critters had switched the disks (sort of) for Europe in an effort to gain access to the real world. Or something.


Read to the end of the book out of inertia, but damn did that ever irritate me.
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Old 04-01-2011, 03:28 AM
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Well, I don't think The Stand ending really is all that out of character. There were a lot of supernatural things going on in that book.

It, on the other hand, well...he was taking a awesome amount of drugs. It's the only way to explain his books during that period.
The Stand relied too much on Dues ex Machina. If the Hand of God was going to intervene, it didn't need a nuke, it could have intervened earlier.

OTOH Turtles are always welcome.

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It's overall a nice book about the alienation and difficulty of an American who travels into the future and is unable to adjust to the changes in society.
This reminds me an awful lot of Venus Pus X.
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Old 04-01-2011, 05:03 AM
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Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow: studied and intricate novel of Denmark/Greenland colonialism and post-colonialism, digressions into sub-Arctic lifestyle. Driven by a crime thriller narrative and a kickass protagoniste.

Then: What? [No spoiler proffered]
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Old 04-01-2011, 05:44 AM
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The Stand relied too much on Dues ex Machina. If the Hand of God was going to intervene, it didn't need a nuke, it could have intervened earlier.
.
I disagree. A lot of the book was about Larry's path from a-hole to redemption, and the hand of god certainly fit in with that.
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Old 04-01-2011, 07:08 AM
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Read Ernest Hemingway's short story, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. It is only maybe 20 pages and I wouldn't dream of discussing the plot. Best damn short story evah.
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Old 04-01-2011, 07:28 AM
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As I mentioned n the current “Whatcha Reading?” thread, I just finished Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. It was a very funny portrait of upper class life in interwar Britain, and I enjoyed it immensely.

However… the ending to the novel came completely out of left field.
I read this one earlier this year and had the same reaction! I kind of get what Waugh was going for, but it still surprised me.

I just finished Chip Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys, which for the great majority of the book is a lighthearted romp through a 1950's art school interspersed with design tidbits that I really enjoyed.

Then in the last 40 pages or so...

SPOILER:
The main character rapes/sodomizes and photographs his drunken art professor for a project, and it is played for laughs (those wacky design students!). Then the OTHER main character gets drugged and raped at a frat party and she has a mini-meltdown in the final critique. The story went so dark so quickly, it was completely bizarre. I have no idea where it came from or if I just didn't pick up on more sinister hints earlier on, but it left me feeling bewildered.
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:01 AM
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I recently read Elmore Leonard's latest Djibouti. I have never read anything of his before. After reading this one, particularly the ending, I will never read anything else of his.

Leonard, you owe me 2 1/2 hours of my life back.
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by The Man With The Golden Gun View Post
I thought the part at the end where:
SPOILER:
The boys all have a gangbang with Bev.


was a lot more left-field.
Both those things in It were so far out that I keep wondering whether they actually were in the book, or if I'm conflating it with something else.
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Old 04-01-2011, 10:11 AM
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And they were only 11 years old!!

Surprised King wasn't damned for writing child porn.
Speaking of SUPRISE KIDDIE SECKS, the ending of Sophie's World just unravelled into chaotic freakishness including an underaged coupling in the bushes while the adults sit idly by. Weird.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Time Stranger
I just finished Chip Kidd's The Cheese Monkeys, which for the great majority of the book is a lighthearted romp through a 1950's art school interspersed with design tidbits that I really enjoyed.
I've met Chip Kidd; he went to my high school and was friends with my sister. A brilliant book designer but a very odd man. I have no explanation for Cheese Monkeys.
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Old 04-01-2011, 10:16 AM
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A great surprise ending was Atonement. It's the whole point of the book.

But one of my favorite 'how the hell did we get here?' endings is Tarzan of the Apes. I don't it requires a spoiler to reveal that it ends at a train station in Wisconsin, USA, just beyond the reach of a forest fire.
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Old 04-01-2011, 11:21 AM
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Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow: studied and intricate novel of Denmark/Greenland colonialism and post-colonialism, digressions into sub-Arctic lifestyle. Driven by a crime thriller narrative and a kickass protagoniste.

Then: What? [No spoiler proffered]
Oh my god yes.
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Old 04-01-2011, 11:22 AM
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Speaking of King, what about Thinner? The Jaunt? The Ledge?

Last edited by Annie-Xmas; 04-01-2011 at 11:22 AM.
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Old 04-01-2011, 11:29 AM
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Maybe not quite a WTF? but definitely a surprise....
In Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion The reader traverses some 600 pages wondering if sensitive, intellectual Leland Stamper will manage to seduce his beautiful sister-in-law or whether his uber-tough big brother will beat him up and drag her back to his cave by the hair.

In the final chapter beautiful Vivian says "to hell with you both", walks out on her family and her old life, meanwhile the two brothers bury the hatchet and figuratively go dancing off arm-in-arm to do battle with the wilderness and the logger's union.

Not sure what point, if any, Kesey was trying to make (he was tripping when he wrote it), but it's a darn fine novel anyway.
SS
Wait....maybe I'm misremembering things, (and I'm not spoiler-tagging this because I may be wrong) but doesn't Leland die thereby precluding the burying of the hatchet?
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Old 04-01-2011, 11:31 AM
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Speaking of King, what about Thinner? The Jaunt? The Ledge?
The Dark Tower?
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Old 04-01-2011, 12:18 PM
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Wait....maybe I'm misremembering things, (and I'm not spoiler-tagging this because I may be wrong) but doesn't Leland die thereby precluding the burying of the hatchet?
I just dusted the book off to check my own memory....No, Leland doesn't die, the ending is pretty much as I described. The brothers do have a knock-down drag out brawl toward the end. Cousin Joe Ben dies, trapped under a fallen log while the tide rises inexorably over his head (a horribly gripping scene that induces nightmares). Old Henry Stamper the clan's patriarch probably dies, his imminent death is implied but not written in. Several secondary characters meet their maker. But young Leland survives to join his brother in a last mighty
f*ck you" to the union and the town.

I never saw the movie, it may have ended differently.
SS
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Old 04-01-2011, 12:25 PM
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The Dark Tower?
But how else could The Dark Tower ended? There's not really any way to end that book that wasn't going to feel like either a cop-out, or leave you underwhelmed. The series had been built up so much by everyone that no ending would have lived up to expectation.
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Old 04-01-2011, 12:35 PM
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Ender's Game

Not so much the fact that he was really fighting the Buggers instead of a simulation, but the fact that he learns that the Buggers are not evil or just "bugs", but a thoughtful society and that he committed genocide against them.

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Old 04-01-2011, 12:53 PM
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Cousin Joe Ben dies, trapped under a fallen log while the tide rises inexorably over his head (a horribly gripping scene that induces nightmares).
Oh, that's what I was remembering! Yeah, that scene certainly leaves an impression on you....that's about the only thing I remember about the book in any detail at this point. The ending sounds pretty good from the way you've described it -- I'll have to reread it some day.
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Old 04-01-2011, 01:05 PM
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I was taken by surprise by the protagonists' ...er... backstory in The Gone-Away World, although if I had heard there was kind of a twisty ending I may have guessed it, which is why I hesitate to post even this much. An interesting, if manic, book -- I'm curious if anyone else has read it.
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Old 04-01-2011, 02:23 PM
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I think the Chip Kidd example is a prime one. Fantastic book which obscenely derailed. Has anyone read the sequel? Does it er fix things?

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But how else could The Dark Tower ended?
I don't think SK books really fit. The endings can be weak or twisty but they aren't unrelated wtf out of nowhere.

DT had two quests - unselfish fix the tower and selfish showdown with Gan. I'm not disappointed that the unselfish quest was completed and the selfish one stymied. I guess the other issue was that getting to the tower was a lot more difficult than the final confrontation.
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Old 04-01-2011, 02:41 PM
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Speaking of King, what about Thinner? The Jaunt? The Ledge?
How are those WTF endings?

Thinner: He seeks out revenge on those he think wronged him, it backfires, and he offs himself.
The Jaunt: Don't fuck with time-space - it's an eternity in there.
The Ledge: The protagonist gets revenge on the antagonist.

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Originally Posted by jayjay
The Dark Tower?
That wasn't WTF either - that was entirely predictable. You may not have seen it coming, but looking back you can clearly see how it was building to that.

Last edited by Munch; 04-01-2011 at 02:42 PM.
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Old 04-01-2011, 03:34 PM
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I don't think SK books really fit. The endings can be weak or twisty but they aren't unrelated wtf out of nowhere.
I agree 100%. I only mentioned it because someone else referred to it.
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Old 04-01-2011, 03:35 PM
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Arturo Perez-Reverte's book The Club Dumas is about a man investigating the life of Alexander Dumas (in modern day), but then halfway through the investigator realizes that he has been going down the wrong path the whole time and ends up doing an entirely different investigation which ends up being far more otherworldly....

I stopped midway through the first time because I thought it was rather stupid to start an entirely new book (without really resolving the first) halfway through -- and it's the same book -- but the second half is actually much better and very quotable.
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Old 04-01-2011, 03:45 PM
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Frederick Forsyth's books - especially his older ones -- have twist endings. The Devil's Alternative has the twist on the very last page*, but I suspect that's not the sort of thing the OP has in mind.








*As does Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Monster Men, although it's not much of a twist. And as does Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case, although that is the last of a whole stack of twists.
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Old 04-01-2011, 03:50 PM
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What, no mention of Shakespeare? Love's Labour Lost is a fairly standard comedy, ending with everyone in love (with the right people, who are also in love with them), and pairing up for marriage, and oops, my dad just died, half the cast has to go back for the funeral and mourning, OK, I guess no shacking up after all.
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Old 04-01-2011, 04:10 PM
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I was taken by surprise by the protagonists' ...er... backstory in The Gone-Away World, although if I had heard there was kind of a twisty ending I may have guessed it, which is why I hesitate to post even this much. An interesting, if manic, book -- I'm curious if anyone else has read it.
I read it last month, and yeah, it was an odd twist, but I felt it worked. Although I'm still mulling over what seem like a couple of plot holes, I guess the nature of the weapon used to cause such an effect allows them to be handwaved away.
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Old 04-01-2011, 04:28 PM
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I was taken by surprise by the protagonists' ...er... backstory in The Gone-Away World, although if I had heard there was kind of a twisty ending I may have guessed it, which is why I hesitate to post even this much. An interesting, if manic, book -- I'm curious if anyone else has read it.
LOVED that book. Such a strange story set in such an odd world. It's one of those books (like Atwood's Oryx and Crake) where you wonder if the story is supposed even to take place on planet Earth. I loved the protagonist's backstory. Very well done, in my opinion. Not at all out of left field, given then crazy style of the story.
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Old 04-01-2011, 09:37 PM
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What, no mention of Shakespeare? Love's Labour Lost is a fairly standard comedy, ending with everyone in love (with the right people, who are also in love with them), and pairing up for marriage, and oops, my dad just died, half the cast has to go back for the funeral and mourning, OK, I guess no shacking up after all.
It is very likely that it had a sequel, 'Love's Labours Won.' (That's not a bad joke - it's what Shakespeare scholars think). But yeah, it is a total non-ending.

As You Like It has many problems in the ending, but the biggest is a God suddenly appearing in an otherwise real-world setting and nobody thinking it's odd. This sort of thing is, of course, where the term deus ex machina comes from; Hymen would have appeared dramatically from the stage machinery.
  #46  
Old 04-01-2011, 11:42 PM
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Colibri Colibri is online now
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Originally Posted by Sevastopol View Post
Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow: studied and intricate novel of Denmark/Greenland colonialism and post-colonialism, digressions into sub-Arctic lifestyle. Driven by a crime thriller narrative and a kickass protagoniste.

Then: What? [No spoiler proffered]
That's one I was going to mention. It really destroyed the book for me.

SPOILER:
I mean the solution to the mystery involves ice worms from outer space? Or whatever the fuck they were? Sheesh.
  #47  
Old 04-02-2011, 12:26 AM
Sevastopol Sevastopol is offline
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I wouldn't go with destroyed. 'Uneven' or on a bad day 'anti-climactic', but it remains a book I have recommended to others.
  #48  
Old 04-02-2011, 08:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
That's one I was going to mention. It really destroyed the book for me.

SPOILER:
I mean the solution to the mystery involves ice worms from outer space? Or whatever the fuck they were? Sheesh.
Hmmm... I'm off to rewrite the endings to most of the books here. I'm thinking they can be made much more logical with the judicious application of
SPOILER:
ice worms from outer space.
Oh, feel free to do what I'm doing: hearing that phrase in the style of
SPOILER:
Piiiigs Innnn Spaaaaaace...


But seriously, I have mentally re-written the ending to SO many books that I've been frustrated with.

I should do it for a living. Watch for my future tome:
"It Is A Far, Far Better Thing That I Do: The Endings That Should Have Been"


It seems a number of authors get to the last chapter of a book and go "Man, I am OUT of ideas. Why didn't I have a plan? How the hell am I going to end this? Well, the publisher's clamoring for it-- I'll just wrap it up before dinner..."
  #49  
Old 04-02-2011, 11:06 AM
C K Dexter Haven C K Dexter Haven is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Amazing View Post
David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series, which was this science fiction series where the world is ruled by these seven Chinese warlords who are constantly jockeying for power. Some people criticized the book as anti-Chinese, but I don't think it was. The series was extremely morally ambiguous....you had likeable and "good" characters do some horrible things, and really awful characters make tremendous altruistic sacrifices. The books dealt with themes like stability vs change, order vs freedom. and I found them engaging. Until I got to the last book.
I agree, and I recommend AGAINST ever reading this series. The ending is such a total god-from-the-machine, totally different from the prior six books. I actually gave away my copies (hardbacks), and thought seriously about burning them in the fireplace.

On the plus side, the British mystery author Robert Barnard often has Twilight-Zone type surprise endings, but they're always absolutely consistent with what went before... he just surprises the reader in the last paragraph or two. A brilliant writer!

Last edited by C K Dexter Haven; 04-02-2011 at 11:07 AM.
  #50  
Old 04-02-2011, 12:15 PM
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Originally Posted by C K Dexter Haven View Post
I agree, and I recommend AGAINST ever reading this series. The ending is such a total god-from-the-machine, totally different from the prior six books. I actually gave away my copies (hardbacks), and thought seriously about burning them in the fireplace.

On the plus side, the British mystery author Robert Barnard often has Twilight-Zone type surprise endings, but they're always absolutely consistent with what went before... he just surprises the reader in the last paragraph or two. A brilliant writer!
Regarding Chung Kuo, did you see this?

From the link:

"A new publisher is attempting to acquire British science fiction writer David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo masterpiece, with the intent of splitting it into 19 volumes and re-writing the unpopular ending"
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