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Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Discussion: The Agony of Defeat

I promised John that if I asked about great victories in books, then I would give the flip side a chance the next week.  So as promised, today's Monday Discussion is all about the agony of defeat.

Personally, I generally prefer tragedy in my stories.  I especially love going to the opera and seeing a long drawn out death scene with the heroine singing a beautiful aria as she dies, like in my favorite opera of all time La Traviata.  But one of the reasons I enjoy this at the opera is that after the scene, the actress gets to "come back to life" and take a bow.

But do I prefer tragedy or victory?  I think for me, it depends on the book.  If a happy ending comes out of a sad book, or conversely, if a sad ending concludes a happy book, I am displeased.  I like a consistent tone.

Being that I like odd, darker stories, filled with macabre elements, I guess tragedy is probably a more common outcome in the stories I read, however.

In my opinion, if we are talking pure and utter defeat, nothing beats The Ruins by Scott Smith.  I dare you to find a more bleak and hopeless ending.  But I love this book because the ending (of the book, not the terrible movie) makes perfect sense given the overall tone of the entire novel.

Of course, I also love the classic tragedies like Hamlet and Macbeth, but I am betting John will have more to say on that, so I will leave it for him.

And then there are more nuanced endings which are tragic in some ways, but also slightly hopeful in others like in Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply.  I really liked the way that novel tied up.

Now it is your turn.  For today's Monday Discussion, what is your favorite defeat in literature?

To follow past Monday Discussions, click here.


John BPL RA said...

I was only half serious but am delighted you chose this as a topic. There are so many books that I love that fall into this category that I find it very hard to narrow it down to a single favorite. Here are my top three.

3. Romeo and Juliet. I know everyone says that but it really is a genius ending. I am not a huge fan of Shakespeare but I could watch that play over and over - and have.

2. Phantom of the Opera - I go on and on about this book all the time but what a great story. When the opera house burns you almost want to cry.

1. The Natural by Bernard Malamud. Everyone has seen the film and the film has a completely different ending than the book. Not only is the book better, but it is one of the most powerful stories of defeat you will ever read.

CrystalV said...

I too love Romeo and Juliet. I always thought that the ending fit perfectly and there is a lot to be learned from it. You just go on for days in a lit circle.
I am also intrigued by “Bonjour Tristesse” by Francoise Sagan. It is a novel that has a very bittersweet ending. A young Cecile at the impressionable age of 17 deals with fathers’ revolving door of lovers. He then seems to settle for a strong intelligent woman that has been a friend for years. Cecile puts her plan of action to stop the love affair in the works and the consequences are devastatingly tragic.

Jeny said...

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Donna said...

The original ending of Great Expectations is pretty dismal. Dickens was forced to write a second ending to end more positively. However, I like the original better.

Kathleen said...

I've always loved the ending of Gone with the Wind. It's so ambiguous-- Scarlett might get Rhett back, or she may very well discover that her heart's desire now desires something else, or the irresistable force may have finally met the immovable object. Perfect!

Anonymous said...


John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and
Men" is my favorite example in
literature of just how agonizing
defeat can be. When two drifters
with a simple dream wind up in
a nightmare that forces one to
kill the other out of love and
to save him from a worst fate,
it is one of the saddest of