Friday, March 03, 2006

Feel Good, Feel Bad

The Guardian reports on a survey for the World Book Day which showed, not surprisingly, that a majority of readers crave happy, feel-good endings in their novels. And similarly readers want some feel-bad endings to be changed too. High on the list of those endings are those of Tess of D'Urbervilles, 1984 and Wuthering Heights. I haven't read Tess yet but hopefully this will remind me to pick it up along with Jude the Obscure soon. 1984 is certainly exquisitely bleak and a long-time favourite. Another classic which has a fantastic feel-bad ending is Flaubert's Madame Bovary. When I had read the book a few years ago I was bored by most parts, not that the novel was boring but that I had no idea of who Flaubert was and what was he trying to achieve in the novel. I read it as just another story. But even then the ending left me stirred, not just with sorrow and pity but also with outrage. After all the horrors--[SPOILER]--the horrible suicide and death of Emma, then the death of her husband, the little girl being sent to the mill to earn a living, the novel ends with the information that Homais, a thoroughly vicious caricature, the epitome of self-interest, greed and shallowness being awarded the Legion of Honour!

Among the recent novels, one novel instantly comes to mind -- Atomised by Michel Houellebecq. It is relentlessly dark and misanthropic -- full of pessmistic philosophizing and intense loathing. Its idea of the improvement of the human condition is simple -- abolish the human species itself. And--[Another SPOILER]--that's what happens in the end (one of the heroes is a scientist working on the possibility of asexual clones of human beings). It is a good book to read if you are feeling lonely or horny. It will cure you of all sexual and emotional longings!

Other feel bad books. Animal Farm by Orwell is heartbreaking. Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground is feel-bad from the first line itself ("I am a sick man! I am a spiteful man"). Most of Kafka's stories and the novel The Trial have feel bad endings too, but they are a little too weird to be counted with regular feel-bad books. Celine's Journey to the End of the Night is considered a nihilistic/feel-bad classic but it is lying on my bed unread for a long time now. Can't think of any more books.


Pareshaan said...

whatabout Henry Miller, disturbing from start to finish! Absolutely unhappy, all the time, even when making love.

km said...

The - ahem - *mother* of all sad endings is Sophocles' Oedipus ;)

Dickens can end a novel happily, but still leave you feeling sad. I would always end up feeling morose after reading David Copperfield.

Isn't Ramayan a bit of a downer at the end? Your wife just got eaten alive by the earth. I foresee very bleak prospects of happiness for Rama.

Madame Bovary has been lying unread in this ginormous box next to my desk for a year now. Someday, someday.

Alok said...

Yes I missed those Greek Tragedies. Perhaps I was thinking of only novels. Yes, they are the original templates of feel-bad endings. The whole philosphy and world-view in those plays is so exquisitely bleak. Antigone is my personal favourite.

Ramayana? Hmmm. Yes I think so. I had never thought of it in this way. It does end on a tragic note, even with a sense of injustice, at least by modern standards. I mean the way Sita was treated...horrible! But then our texts have way of justifying everything. For example you say sita was "eaten alive by the earth". Actually she went where she had came from! That was her original home. Not completely sure though. I am weak on mythologies :)

Pareshaan: I haven't read Miller but from what I had read I thought his novels (at least Tropic of Cancer) was kinda erotic in a normal sort of way. Now you have made me interested in the book :)

Guptavati said...

ouch,there are folks out there who want to change the ending of Anna Karenina..And in terms of philosophy and world-view, I somehow felt 1984 was more feel-bad (feel-worse) than Animal Farm.

Again I don't know if they can essentially be characterized as bleak endings but reading Herman Hesse makes one wallow in ultimate feel-badness and actually enjoying it.I am not including his short stories but only his novels which are so full of inner and outer conflict and angst.

Alok said...

Hmmm. I should stop writing about books now. Everytime someone mentions a book I have to say, "ohh I haven't read that one yet" :)

But seriously I thought Hesse was into spirituality and humanism kind of things. I know, misanthropy and nihilism have no monoply on despair but still!