The ‘Inconclusive Ending’ and its place in literature

*SPOILERS FOR HUNGER GAMES 3, 1Q84*

I recently re-read a beautiful book by Kerry Drewery, ‘A Brighter Fear’; one of the most touching, haunting and true-to-life novels I have come across in the ‘Young Adult’ genre. The novel follows the story of Lina, a teenage girl from Baghdad. It starts in 2003, as the bombs begin to fall on the city. It is a story of love, family and survival. In a review on the website ‘Good Reads’, one reader commented that while she really enjoyed the novel, the ending was ‘too inconclusive’, and she was angry that she didn’t get chance to find out what happens to every character.

I found this an interesting comment, and one that, now I have noticed it, has been written about many different books on the Good Reads website. It’s an interesting question to ask: why are we so put out when we are presented with an ending that is so inconclusive? Another book on my recently read list is the now world-famous ‘The Fault in Our Stars’, John Green’s tragic novel of two teenagers finding love despite their struggle with cancer. In it, the protagonist Hazel visits Amsterdam to meet her favourite author in a bid to learn what happens at the end of his novel, her favourite, and one which ends without offering an explanation to the fates of the characters. She is so desperate to find out that she even asks the author to just make it up, rather than to tell her there is no conclusion. He responds that the characters are fictional: they cease to exist once the author stops writing about them.

Is that not the point of writing a book that emulates ‘real life’? In reality, the story does not end when the antagonist dies or is eliminated. In life, the story continues after the couple finally gets together, or the murderer is captured. For some reason we have become obsessed with a perfectly rounded off ending, in which all characters are accounted for. Take for example two highly-successful franchises of recent years. In Harry Potter, we are provided with a neat ’19 years later’ epilogue which provides conclusive evidence that the darkness of the final book has been eliminated. Similarly in ‘The Hunger Games’, the strong and fiery Katniss finally achieves domestic bliss in a wholly disappointing conclusion that for me ruined the rest of the series.

A master of the inconclusive ending is Murakami, and I’m thinking in particular of 1Q84. At the end of the three part novel, Aomame and Tengo stand looking out at a single moon. We do not know what will happen to them, nor what Air Chrysalis is really all about. Do we need to? No. The ending is cathartic in its own way because the whole purpose of the novel was to draw the two main characters together again. I didn’t want to read about them growing old together, or worse, and is more accurate to real life, realising that they didn’t belong together and drifting apart.

What do you think? Do you mind if an ending isn’t conclusive? Do we need to know what happens to every character at the end of the a novel?

A return to blogging feat. Viper Wine

It has been some time since I ventured into the ‘blogosphere’, and in the time since I last wrote I’ve managed to finish my degree, graduate and get a full time job, working in a brand new city, in a home of my own for the first time. With all that in mind, it’s a wonder I’ve found time to sit down and enjoy a book, but somehow I have managed to work my way through a fair few since being able to read for pleasure once again (let’s have a moment to appreciate the fact I never have to analyse a book to death ever again!).

Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre was a book that had caught my eye a number of times in Waterstones before I eventually bought it. I am forever guilty of judging a book by it’s cover and this one was particularly striking. With its neon colours and the modern typeface juxtaposed with the painting of Venecia Digby holding an iPhone, the cover was certainly unexpected for a story about a 17th Century alchemist.

As for the novel itself, I still, even now having finished it a couple of weeks ago, cannot work out whether I enjoyed it or not. In the ‘yes I did’ corner, there is the sheer indulgence of the prose, laced with so many 17th Century ‘pop culture’ references that had the literature student inside me jumping for joy. The characterisation of Ben Jonson was particularly enjoyable, and I enjoyed the almost transcendent passages in which Kenelm ruminated on life: past, present and future, with the events of the novel stretching out into modern day. I also enjoyed the anchoring of the story with historical quotes from Kenelm’s work amongst others. It gave the novel an awareness of itself as a piece of literature within a whole history of literary writings, and this self awareness was for the most part endearing.

However, there is still a ‘no, I didn’t’ corner fighting for precedence in my opinion. The indulgent prose was guilty of becoming rambling, and at times Kenelm’s ruminations on alchemy came dangerously close to being boring. I’m also uncertain as to how well the modern references worked in the context of the story. Terry Wogan passing comment on the events just didn’t seem to add anything to the text, and indeed were more jarring than illuminating. I was hoping to feel some unnerving resonances about modern day society, but actually I felt they were simply out of place.

Overall, this is a good book, with a solid story and some great writing. It’s worth persevering to the end despite the occasional flaws in the prose, and a must for historical fiction fans! It’s nice to see something different in the historical fiction genre, and if nothing else it’s worth reading for that alone!

Rating: ***

What did you think? Let me know!

One Hour Photo, and why I didn’t want it to end.

Hello all, it’s been a while! In some bizarre but not entirely unexpected twist of fate my summer has become less of a ‘holiday’ and more of a continuation of my usually working life, but I’m enjoying, so I can’t complain! In a rare moment of downtime last night I watched the film ‘One Hour Photo’, directed by Mark Romanek and starring Robin Williams in the lead role.

I’ve filched this synopsis from IMDB for the purpose of giving you some background on the movie:

Middle aged Sy Parrish works as a technician at a one hour photo lab located in a SavMart store in a suburban mall. Sy is a lonely man, never having had any friends. He knows much about his customers through the photographs they have developed. But he knows more about the Yorkin family – specifically Nina Yorkin and her adolescent son Jake Yorkin, the two in the family who drop off and pick up the family’s photofinishing – than anyone else, the family about who he is obsessed. Nina’s husband, Will Yorkin, is incidental to his obsession since Sy has only seen him in photographs. Sy’s obsession includes fantasizing about being their favorite “Uncle Sy”. He has even been making an extra set of prints for himself of all of their photographs since Jake was a newborn. After an incident at work and after Sy finds out more about the family through a set of photographs, he decides to right the injustices he sees in the only way he knows how. His actions demonstrate his true mental state.

(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0265459/)

Why am I writing about it? It’s breathtakingly understated, it’s beautifully shot and Robin Williams is flawless in the role of Sy Parrish. At once both mentally unstable yet completely endearing, Williams presents the delicate balance between ‘normal’ life and the memories of a traumatic past with a real honesty, and even at the climax of the film he is utterly believable. What’s more, the film doesn’t give you all of the answers. As the credits roll, you’re not certain what happens in the end, and I think this is an important statement about mental health in general. Sometimes the ending is neither a happy one nor a sad. Sometimes it is inconclusive, uncertain and even if it does fall to one side or the other that happiness or sadness may not last.

This film presents obsession, mental instability, and a genuine need for affection in equilibrium within the human mind. It is an uncomfortable film, and at times unnerving. Yet, one cannot help but feel sympathy for Sy, whatever questionable acts he undertakes. He is only human, and that is made abundantly clear throughout the film.

It’s a 5 stars from me – this is film is definitely worth a watch!

Prejudice on our doorstep – how long before history repeats itself?

“I don’t want to say what I’d like to do to Jews – it’s too extreme”. 

A terrifying fact about that statement is that it was not a member of the Nazi party who said it. These words were not spoken by some commandant over 70 years ago. They were spoken by a first year student of the University of Warwick, Alex Davies, a leader of the National Action movement, an openly anti-Semitic and racist fascist group. Next year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and yet in all of the time that has passed, comments like this are still spoken on a daily basis.

As I’ve often spoken about here, I work towards educating young people about the Holocaust and it’s victims and survivors, because I believe that the question ‘What is the Holocaust?’ should never need be asked by a young person. I am not Jewish and I have no familial connection the Holocaust. People ask me, why? Why do you bother? It was over 70 years ago and anyway there are other genocides and there will always be genocides etc etc…

This very quote is why. The very fact that I can pick up my student newspaper, The Boar, and see on the front page “Fascist leader leaves Warwick” suggests to me that what I do is important. I’m not preaching history, nor am I particularly interested in sharing facts and figures about the Holocaust with young people past what they learn in school. What I am interested in is sharing the stories of people who died due to attitudes like those of Alex Davies. The stories of those who’s lives were shattered by prejudice, hatred and intolerance. It’s the stories of these people that young people need to hear, because it is only when considering the real effect of prejudice on people, not on history, that we can start to learn from what happened all those years ago. Because quite clearly we haven’t learned a lot at all, when people such as Alex Davies are still sharing their ridiculous prejudices for the world to see.

On 10th July I will be attending the Holocaust Educational Trust’s second annual Ambassador Conference, which will see hundreds of young people gathering in London to listen to seminars by eminent scholars in Holocaust history, as well as to survivors and key figures from the media, in the hope that we can share our ‘intolerance’ – an intolerance of the hatred that still resonates throughout our society. I will attend the conference as a proud Regional Ambassador for the Trust, and I will share my experiences so far with other attendees.

Britain First’s plea for people to join them in ‘taking Britain back’, to ‘join the resistance’ against ‘foreigners, asylum seekers or migrants’ proves just how far we still have to go. Until I can log onto my Facebook account without seeing images which deem those of a different religion or ethnic background as ‘a tsunami coming across Europe’ and other ridiculous similar statements, our job is not finished.

For more information about the Ambassador Conference see: http://www.het.org.uk/conference/
Original The Mirror article from which the Alex Davies quote is taken: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/exposed-rise-hitler-loving-national-action-3659759
And the article in The Boar: http://theboar.org/2014/06/18/fascist-leader-leaves-warwick/#.U6WQgFxbGlI

A new project: ‘642 things to write about’

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Before exams took over my life this term, I bought a book called ‘642 Things To Write About’. It’s essentially a book filled with ideas to inspire those wanting to write creatively. Since I have a little bit more time on my hands now thanks to exams being over, I thought it would be fun to do one a day, at random.

Some of them are funny, some are serious, but it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. So without further ado:

“Describe the face of someone you love.”

I’ve never really liked his face. Not because of any specific feature that isn’t nice to look at or anything like that. He’s cocky, self-assured, and the constant smirk he has on his face distorts his otherwise attractive features. It’s a face that says “I know I’m attractive, look at me.” I couldn’t pick out a striking feature, and you certainly won’t find me gushing over the way I feel when I stare into his eyes. He’s not a film-star, and this isn’t a romantic comedy. This isn’t ‘love at first sight’. So what do I like about his face? When he dips his head to kiss me, and I place a hand on the back of his neck, I can feel the top of his spine. It’s strange, I know, but that’s the most attractive part of being close to his face, because I know that fragile point on his neck will remain vulnerable despite any outward arrogance. 

South of the Border, West of the Sun

Some of you may remember my post some time ago about Norwegian Wood, which I thoroughly enjoyed at the time, but didn’t really think about as anything other than a love story.

I recently finished South of the Border, West of the Sun, also by Murakami. I think I realise now why Murakami has such a draw. You don’t necessarily learn anything from his writing, because what you are reading is human nature, presented as it really is, without excess or embellishment. These aren’t false relationships built up to have problems which will eventually be resolved in a happy ending, or which will tragically never be resolved, leaving one with a moral message to take from the book. When reading South of the Border, I realised that what was making the book so poignant for me was that I kept noticing aspects of my own relationships, things I’d said, moments shared.

At this particular time in my life, it’s refreshing to read a novel which doesn’t offer a sweetness and light presentation of happy couples who resolve everything in the end. Often people talk of reading as a form of escapism, but I’m finding it’s the opposite for me at the moment. Reading is reminding me that I don’t need to escape. And that can only be a good thing.

My journey…

As I stood at the gate, staring across the frozen wasteland in front of me, I found myself confused. This space, this vast, snow covered space, pockmarked with the odd ramshackle hut, held no emotion for me. I was numb, like my hands, feet and the end of my nose. I found I was willing myself to feel something, to feel sadness or anything other than cold. Even as I began to walk around, to hear the words of the tour guide, I couldn’t feel anything. 

We stood vigil that day, and said prayers and shared stories in a moonlit service of remembrance. We lit candles, and placed them along the infamous train tracks leading up to the watch tower. Then we left. The buoyant group that had got on the coach that morning were subdued and solemn on the return journey. A journalist asked me, “What has the visit made you feel?” 

“Nothing.”

It wasn’t until a few months later, when I was flicking through the photographs on my phone, that I found the ones I had taken from the Watch Tower. Photographs of that very same expanse that had felt so alien to me at the time. I cried. I realised then why I had felt nothing at the time. I could not comprehend, could not even begin to understand the inhumanity that took place in that expanse. I couldn’t feel anything because there is no level of compassion that can counteract a crime such as the one that took place on the very ground upon which we stood. How could I feel something, when there were so many lives lost in that space, so many livelihoods shattered, dreams wasted? How could I stand there, wrapped in the warmth of my thermal coat, when thousands had shivered in barely anything? The only way I was going to understand, would be by sharing their stories. 

Now, I share my story, of my journey. It is one of many stories about the Holocaust, stories of survival, stories of loss, stories of remembrance, and of forgiveness. Each one of us, as we share our stories, is educating the people around us. The more we educate, the less we forget. The less we forget, the greater chance we have of ensuring that the darkest time in history is never repeated. 

On Nothing (by Janne Teller) and why you should read it…

This book was a Christmas present from Kerry Drewery (who’s books you should also go and read) this year. It’s premise is simple: Pierre Anthon is sitting in a plum tree claiming life means nothing. The other children want to get him out. What follows is a story of the search for meaning in life in the face of the ever-dawning realisation that there isn’t any. Deciding to prove to Pierre Anthon that meaning exists by giving up their favourite, most meaningful belongings, the children begin to realise that what matters to them, from a pair of sandals, to virginity, to the coffin of a dead brother, isn’t really something they want to give away.

It’s from the ‘young-adult’ genre, which I like to dip into now and again for a break from the serious books I read for university, but this is certainly not a book for the squeamish. Some of the things that make the ‘pile of meaning’ are not particularly savoury, such as the head of a dog… But there is a childish innocence to the way they give them up at the start of the novel, which develops into a very adult manipulation of emotions as the story develops, that is jarring for the reader. It was reminiscent of things in my childhood, of the moments when people changed and real motives were laid bare.

Perhaps what is even more unnerving is the ending. While I won’t spoil it, there is a definite sense that what happens in the book really does mean nothing, that life goes on around us, even while we search for its meaning. It’s delightfully simple, and yet you’ll still be thinking about it long after you’ve turned the last page.

Give it a read!

Not love…

“I wasn’t in love with her. And she didn’t love me. For me the question of love was irrelevant. What I sought was the sense of being tossed about by some raging, savage force, in the midst of which lay something absolutely crucial. I had no idea what that was.”

Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Thinking about ‘Journeys’ – HMD 2014

On Monday, the UK will mark Holocaust Memorial Day, an annual event which seeks to dedicate a day to remembrance, education and the coming together of people from around the country.

This year’s theme is ‘Journeys’, something which has recently got me thinking about all of the journeys that I have taken in my Holocaust education, and all of the journeys I’ve learnt about during that time.

Still most memorable for me was my journey to Auschwitz in 2009 with the Lessons from Auschwitz Project and the Holocaust Educational Trust. I began a journey that day that has changed the last 5 years of my life. I could never have thought, at the age of 17, that by the time I reached my 21st year I would be actively working with the Trust in such a way as I have.

There have also been various journeys around the country to go to Regional Ambassador days, chances to meet up with my fellow RAs and find out what fantastic things they have been doing in their own communities. Sometimes it’s easy to feel that people don’t ‘get’ what you’re trying to do, like it is irrelevant or at least no more important than the other curriculum covered topics of ‘History’ or ‘Religious Studies’. When I meet with this group of people however, I am so pleased to see that I am not on my own, and that there are so many people who have the same interest and ambitions as I do.

I’ve taken a personal journey, too, in my work with the Holocaust Educational Trust. I’ve learnt what it takes to be heard in today’s society, how hard it is to change ingrained prejudices, and what I need to do myself to set a good example for others. I’ve learnt new skills like how to talk to a camera, how to talk in front of lots of important people without making a fool out of myself and how to listen.

But perhaps the most important journey, is the one which Harry Spiro, Janine Webber and many other wonderful Holocaust survivors I have had the privilege of meeting have shared with me. Their journeys are ones of hope in the face of desperation, of survival in a world of pain and suffering and of inspiration. Without their stories, we would have no hope of educating young people. Thanks to their courage, we can do exactly that.