Coming to the end of a good novel is rather like coming to the end of a good relationship. I suppose the main difference is that a good novel remains good right until the end, whereas a good relationship …? Hmm. Logic says that it can’t be ‘good’ anymore by that stage, otherwise it wouldn’t need to end in the first place, right?
Of course a novel is an inanimate thing, whereas a relationship, and the people in it, are presumably animate. (One would hope so, at any rate.) But then again, is a novel really inanimate? Don’t the best novels introduce you to real, breathing, flawed human beings with whom you connect just as wholeheartedly as you would do with people in the ‘real’ world?
As you approach the concluding pages of a great novel, you desperately don’t want it to end. You linger, read more slowly, savour every page, every word; you want to plough right back into it, once you’ve digested that final sentence; you want to relive the entire experience. Isn’t that right? And isn’t it the same with a relationship which is approaching its end? Especially if you’re the one who would rather keep on going, warts and all. Don’t you want to cling to every single minute of those excruciating last few weeks, days, hours, before that final closing of the front door, knowing that you and your partner will now have to go your different ways, become two separate entities, no longer united?
I can hear some of you saying: Well, that sure as hell doesn’t apply to me! I’m well rid of him/her! But isn’t there still something deeply sad about the relationship coming to an end? I mean any relationship? After all, we don’t live in Victorian times; if you went into that alliance of body and soul in the first place, when you were in the heady throes of love, then it must have been your choice. There must have been a lot of good in it.
So when it’s all over, when the last page of your union has been turned, the book of your reciprocal world closed for ever, don’t you want to relive all the best bits? Close your eyes and savour all those unforgettable pages and pages of love in its incipience, passion in its delirium, then growing harmony as the pages kept turning? Why bother fretting over the lesser moments – even if it’s true to say that those lesser moments gradually besmeared the fabric of your daily existence? At least the relationship was still alive back then, wasn’t it?
I, too, shall soon be coming to an end of my relationship. Not with a man this time, thank God! – though it’s true to say I’ve had more than my fair share of endings with them too, during the unpredictable course of my own life’s book. No, this time I’m referring to the novel I started writing at the beginning of lock-down, and have now finished. That is to say, I’m done with the main part of the relationship – the beautiful yet tortuous process of creation and growth. The next stage is far less exciting, rather like the middle years of a marriage when you have to work hard to stop things getting complacent. So for me, now is the time for re-writing, editing, collating comments from my invaluable team of fellow literature-lovers who have been reading my novel, chapter by chapter, these last few months.
My hope is that some of these followers will feel a similar sadness when the story comes to an end. Because isn’t that, more than anything else, the sign of a book that has connected with its reader? Not wanting to let go, even when you know you have to? Urgently needing more – diving into the past, rereading the same pages, reliving the same memories; or perhaps looking to new horizons for something different – a new book, new relationship, new passion, to take your mind off the demise of the old one?
Let’s face it, once you’ve plunged yourself into that delicious newness all over again, your entire being thrills in the action-replay of all that excitement, all that passion and urgency. And before you know what’s hit you, the previous relationship – book or otherwise – is relegated to that unobtainable cache of has been, and is soon forgotten.
Until the next ending draws nearer, and nearer, and nearer …