A GPS screen in a car with a twisty route marked

The twist comes at the end

Notes from the August Literati meeting

The mild late-summer gusts of wind didn’t bring an unforeseen change of weather to our get together in Zurich, but we did get plenty of twists and turns in the form of unpredictable endings in books, movies, and poetry.

Instead of bringing everything together in a nice, well-tied bow, a good twist leaves you turning over the ideas in your mind, piecing together clues, re-evaluating your perceptions about characters and situations. These kinds of stunning surprises can be hard to share without ruining the best bits, but I think we’ve managed to avoid spoilers!

An unexpected ending tends to sticks with you.

Said during our in-person discussion

From text to film

Two of the books mentioned have also been transformed into movies, while maintaining their curveball conclusions. And the third movie was originally imagined as a horror.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel, 2012 movie directed by Ang Lee
With a twist that throws everything that came before out the window, Life of Pi leaves much open to interpretation—letting readers grapple with whether to embrace a mundane, more believable story or to have faith in a fantastical series of events.

Atonement by Ian McEwan, 2007 movie directed by Joe Wright with Kiera Knightly and Saoirse Ronan in lead roles
A heartbreaking ending wraps up this story of two sisters that begins in rural England during WWII. The novel quickly transcends predictability as it follows a rich, complex, well-written female main character from youth through to old age. (Perhaps an addendum to the list of good examples from our previous discussion On Men Writing Women.)

Inception, 2010 movie directed by Christopher Nolan
Centred on the concept of stealing and implanting ideas, this convoluted film has a cryptic ending. The twist sparked a discussion about whether it really matters if you’re living in a dream or experiencing reality. And, yes, Nolan first wanted Inception to be a horror movie.

Not child’s play

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
Loosely based on a true story of a reform school for boys in the southern US during the Jim Crow era, Whitehead’s matter of fact style leads to an ending that pushes readers to re-evaluate their assumptions and where their empathy lies.

‘Crocodile’s Toothache’ from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Childhood memories of road trip entertainment immediately brought this short poem to the fore when the topic of ‘unexpected endings’ was raised. Listen to a recording read by the author and enjoy a humourous and snappy conclusion.

Diverging from the theme

As generally happens, our discussion ranged beyond the theme of the evening. There were a couple a couple books we touched on briefly—Untamed : Stop pleasing, start living by Glennon Doyle and Girl, woman, other by Bernardine Evaristo—and the one below that we delved into more deeply.

Mäzeninnen : denken, handeln, bewegen by Elisa Bortoluzzi Dubach and Hansrudolf Frey
A German-language work (sadly no English translation exists) about securing foundation sponsorship and communicating with patrons. Although perhaps it’s not such a stretch from the theme and Bortoluzzi Dubach’s insight will result in an unexpected ending (or the beginning of a brilliant new art piece) for Literati attendee Sonja Lackner!

And the surprising revelation…

No one mentioned any thrillers as examples of unexpected endings: No Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. The best twists come in the unlikeliest places!

Anything else with an unexpected ending you’d recommend?

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