Happy endings?

"World book day" is now over: £1 book vouchers duly given out to every British schoolchild and, by and large, spent if they are going to be (they run out in a few days) . For the past few years, there has been a pretty good selection of £1.99 special books written for children to buy with their vouchers — short stories by Malorie Blackman, Meg Cabot, Eoin Colfer and others. This year (at WHSmith anyway) the selection was meagre, with a Darren Shan being about the only one aimed at post 8-year-old readers, sitting incongruously on a table with some pink, cartoony-covered items and one or two toddler books. My daughters opted to buy a full-length book each — they shared a WHS "buy one get one half price" offer and used their vouchers to get a pretty good deal. The paucity of choice for children was probably due to the focus of the scheme this year on books for adults of low reading age; 12 big-name authors wrote short novels for the "Quick Read" promotion, an attempt to entice adults who don’t read books or who find reading difficult.

To promote World book day, the organisers held a poll about endings. Happy endings win hands down (41 per cent against 2 per cent of the 1700 (approx) respondents who prefer unhappy ones). On the WBD website, an author called Adele Parks comments: ‘To date I have only ever written happy endings. Having lived with my characters for several months before I write their particular endings I have always felt compelled to give them at least a Happily Near Future (if not a Happily Ever After). I think my readers deserve happy endings; there’s enough grimness to deal with without my adding to it.’

I’ve never heard of Adele Parks so I looked her up on Amazon (UK). Her latest book is called "Husbands", and here’s the synopsis:

"Bella secretly married her childhood sweetheart, Stevie, over a decade ago; they were at university, two big kids playing at being grownups. When it all unravelled and reality hit, Bella simply got up and left. And the secret remained a secret. Years later, Bella meets Philip and, despite her vow never to marry again, she can’t resist him. He is a catch. Funny, charming, interesting and kind. Only hitch is, she’s still (technically, anyway) married to Stevie. Bella, typically, just ignores the problem. And the moment to tell Philip never quite seems to arrive. So Bella plans never to reveal her secret after all, it’s just a silly piece of paper, lodged at a registrar’s office in Aberdeen, isn’t it? She hasn’t seen Stevie for years probably never will again. Except that Bella’s best friend Laura has fallen in love, and when she introduces her new man to the gang it is none other than Stevie. Could things get any more complicated? Only if Bella and Stevie fall in love with each other again."

WOW, is all I can say.

Returning to World book day (and a faint concern that the whole enterprise is not all that serious), unsurprisingly, the ending of Pride and Prejudice wins as "the nation’s favourite happy ending". I am unsurprised because P&P is always voted "the nation’s favourite novel" (apart from times when the Tolkein fraternity gets wind of an event and blasts in — but I think everyone realises that LOTR wins things because of its devotedly loyal, energetic fan base as opposed to representing the broad base of people who answer "nation’s favourite" type of polls).

Now this I do find strange. From the WBD website: "The nation’s favourite happy endings are:

1. Pride and Prejudice
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. Jane Eyre
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
5. Rebecca
7= The Time Traveler’s Wife
A Town like Alice
8. A Room with a View
9. The Shadow of the Wind
10. Middlemarch"

I haven’t read all these books, but I have read most of them and I would not characterise all of them as having happy endings — some have chiefly left a memory of sadness on turning the last page. There are certainly many "happier" books than in the winning 10 above. (But I’m not going to get into lists after my last indecisive experience!)

Much was made in media reports about the survey of the fact that many people would like books with "unhappy" endings to have happier ones. The sad ending people would most like to change is Tess of the D’Urbervilles, according to the WBD site. Adele Parks (again) opines: ‘Yet if Anna and Vronsky or Scarlett and Rhett had lived happily-ever-after we would have forgotten them. Happiness doesn’t have the cachet and miserable nobility of tragedy, at least not in literature. In real life I’m rather keen on it.’

According to an article about the poll on the Guardian Unlimited website: "Twelve per cent of readers even wanted to reverse an unhappy event in a story as recent as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Asked to throw light on their view, 37% said happy endings gave them a sense of satisfaction. Most of these said reading a happy ending put them in a good mood for the day………. Women were 13% more likely than men to say they want it all to end happily. Almost one fifth of men expressed a preference for books with ambiguous endings. Those classsified as ambiguous included Louis de Berniere’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. "