Cassandra: Glister, Ambiguous Endings and Loose Ends

Category: Reading

December’s Book Talk read, Glister by John Burnside, is a book rife with ambiguity, particularly when it comes to the ending, which left me scratching my head. Dean Koontz’s Servants of Twilight was another such book and I wondered for days whether or not the main character, a little boy, was actually a normal child or the Devil’s spawn. And what Stephen King fan can forget the ending to The Dark Tower series. I’m not giving anything away, but let’s just say there are probably forums all over the internet debating the ending. The only issue I personally have with ambiguous endings – provided they are well written – is that sometimes I won’t pick up another book for a week afterward as I can’t stop dwelling on it. 

After scouring the internet, I found many books that people thought had ambiguous endings, from the Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket to Charlotte Bronte’s Villette to The Magus by John Fowles. Upon further investigation, I also found that reader’s opinions varied greatly on the subject of ambiguous endings.

'I'm a sucker for a happy ending, and I absolutely hate books that completely leave me hanging in a "to be continued" fashion,' commented Daniel R. Marvello – author of The Vaetra Chronicles fantasy series – on a blog by Roz Morris – writer, editor and blogger.

But Joseph W. Richardson had a different view when he commented on the post 'When an Ending Isn't' on the blog Generality.  

'I like stories that bleed off the margins,' he said. 'When an author hints at bits and pieces of a character's life, and I'm left to fill in the blanks, that works for me. I feel like I'm participating.'

The question is: Do books with ambiguous endings stimulate your imagination or merely frustrate you? Can you think of any such books and what did you think the endings meant?


Glister's author, John Burnside, has some pretty strong feelings on ambiguous endings himself, and we've just published the full audio verison of our recent interview with him, about Glister, endings, politics and much much more. Have a listen to the John Burnside interview here