So this review of Adam Nevill’s The Ritual (at The Hat Rack) prompted this excellent blogpost over at The Speculative Scotsman, and also this excellent blogpost at Spooky Reads, which – if you haven’t already clicked on the links – are about the endings of horror novels, and how they’re often disappointing and, more specifically, how it’s a tricky thing to satisfyingly end a horror novel. Do you explain everything, and in doing so rob the novel of the mystery, the unknown, that made it what it is? Or do you refrain, and finish the book without explaining the nature of the horror, thereby potentially giving the impression that there’s no internal logic to your world, that you threw in all the supernatural stuff purely for effect, or – worse – for expedience?
It’s a good question. My personal approach (when writing) is to have all of the logic and explanations worked out, but only include the details that are appropriate to the narrative viewpoint. It was easier with THE LEAPING than with THE THING ON THE SHORE, because the point of the horror in THE LEAPING was that it was random and nihilistic and ‘why me?’, like the cancer suffered by the protagonist’s father. I struggled to know where to draw the line between explanation and mystery in THE THING ON THE SHORE, though.
But what I really wanted to add to the conversation was my feelings as a reader. And my feelings as a reader are that I don’t want anything much explained at the end of a book, to be honest. Genre aside, I don’t want everything wrapped up. If when I get to the last line of the last page of a book all of my questions are answered, then I forget the book more quickly. A neat ending makes a book easier to swallow, and I don’t want that. I want a book that feels like it’s stuck in the throat. The mind’s throat. An angular book with sharp corners that leaves grooves in the mind’s throat for the mind’s tongue to probe at, to keep returning to. I want to read books that I’ll remember, and I remember books that leave me with questions, not answers. Books that make me feel something exactly not the warm glow of resolution, basically. Not always, but often.
That’s what I like to read, and that’s what I’d like to write. When I work out how to do it in horror fiction without leaving readers feeling cheated, then, well, hopefully you’ll let me know.