I’ve just read Norwegian by Night, by Derek B. Miller. It won the CWA John Creasey Dagger for best debut novel this year and it was a worthy winner. Sheldon Horowitz, elderly watch-repairer and Korean veteran, suffering from dementia, is living in Oslo with his grandaughter when he witnesses the murder of a young woman and flees the scene with her young son. Like all the best crime novel it is about far more than a crime: it’s about loss and grief and redemption. I thought it was excellent, though I did feel it ended a little bit abruptly. But then, endings are very, very difficult to do well. By that I don’t mean the climax of the story, but those last few lines that ideally will linger in the imagination of the reader. If the first lines matter because they must hook your reader and draw her in, the last lines should make her want to read the writer’s next novel.
I’ve often struggled with how to end a novel. Short stories tend to be easier in that respect, perhaps because they tend to be all of a piece, just one idea, and the last line can be the pay-off. I like Truffaut’s idea that his films should end on a rising note and the last moments should say ‘happy.’ it is hard to write about endings without giving too much away, but this is how Vasily Grossman concludes Life and Fate. A wounded soldier has returned to his wife and daughter and walks with his wife in the still snow-bound forest. It’s April:
‘It was still cold and dark, but soon the doors and shutters would be flung open. Soon the house would be filled with the tears and laughter of children, with the hurried steps of a loved woman, and the measured gait of the master of the house.
‘They stood there, holding their bags, in silence.’