Spoiling a happy ending

Spoiling a happy ending

I wrote this article for the ARRA newsletter early this year. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that every time I talk about reading the back of the book first, #afairydies.

On the weekend I was reading Solace & Grief, a young adult urban fantasy by Australian author Foz Meadows, and around a third of the way in I just couldn’t help myself: I read the ending.

When I tell people of my spoilery ways, they either tell me that they do it, too—and nine times out of ten they’re romance readers—or they’re shocked that I could do such a thing. It ruins the story! they insist. And I tell them, No, it allows me to read the book instead of stressing out about how it might end!

I blame my miscreant literary habits on Gone With The Wind, which I read as a teen. I’d never seen the film, but it always seemed to make people’s shortlists for Favourite Romance, so I expected it to be … well, romantic. After a weekend reading marathon, with a box of tissues close at hand, I finally got to the end and discovered that Scarlett and Rhett did not end up together!

That was probably the closest I ever got to actually throwing a book against a wall.

Ever since, I’ve never really trusted the promise of a happy ending; I’ll believe it when I read it. For a long time, I even read the back of Mills & Boon books.

Authors may find readers like me frustrating at times. I’m the kind of reader who absorbs spoilers for J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books, knowing full well I’ll probably spend a gazillion bucks to buy the books in hardback when they’re released. If I find a book that sounds interesting but has elements that I’m not sure about—love triangles, for example—I’ll even trawl through blogs, Amazon and Goodreads to confirm if it’s the right book for me.

But authors need not despair. Spoiling the ending doesn’t affect how I enjoy a story. Sure, it might reveal a clever plot twist, but a story whose entertainment value depends entirely on a surprise ending is, I would argue, always going to be doomed.

Because the journey to that ending is what I want to savour—and I can’t do that if I’m constantly worrying about whether or not these secondary characters will end up together, or if the apparent love interest will cark it eventually. This is especially important if the author is new to me.

I’ve tried a few times to reform my deviant ways. What ends up happening is that I speed through the entire book just to get to the ending. This makes for a less nuanced reading of the text; I almost always end up liking the book more after a re-read.

When a book hints at a love story, knowing who ends up with whom means I’m prepared to put more emotional investment into the characters. Because, even though I read outside the romance genre, I’ll always be a romance reader at heart.

This is an edited version of  an article that first appeared in the ARRA Newsletter in February 2010. Photo credit: Every Time You Click This Link A Fairy Dies by Rob Clark (Flickr).

Kat Mayo is a freelance writer, Twitter tragic, and compulsive reader. Her reviews have appeared in Books+Publishing, and she was the winner of the 2014 RWA Romance Media Award. Kat co-founded Trousseau, a zine for people who love reading romance books. She believes in happy endings, and kills fairies with glee.


  1. Marg says:

    You know that I am a fairy killer too! And most of the time it does not worry me, but every now and again there are books that have a shock ending on that last page! For example, when I read the last page of My Sisters Keeper, because of the shock ending, it kind of undermined all the drama of the rest of the book.
    That does not stop me from reading the last page though because most of the time there really is not that much happening on the last page.

  2. I just think of one book where it was really important. It turns out she didn’t have a twin, but that she had multiple personality disorder. Subsequent reads just show the genius of the author, because you can see how she tucked the threads of the story. But if I had have known that at the beginning, it would have ruined it for me. Everyone has a different reading style, and I know I have been _severely_ tempted at times, but I haven’t killed any fairies since I was an early teenager.

  3. Kat says:

    I’d say that Liar by Justine Larbalestier is one of the few books I’d recommend not spoiling. Mind you, I don’t know that reading the back would make the plot any clearer—but I think part of the experience of reading the story depends heavily on the ‘WTF is going on?’ thoughts running through your mind.

    On the other hand, if I hadn’t read On The Jellicoe’s ending early, I might never have got through the first three chapters. I’ve reread it a few times now, and I have to say that knowing the ending makes the story and the writing just *that* much more exquisite.

  4. Kaetrin says:

    I don’t go berserk if I read a spoiler on a website (I can’t NOT click on the +/-hide button thingy!) but I don’t generally read the ending of a book first.  I’m careful that I read romance (which = HEA/HFN) but if there isn’t one, it’s a wallbanger.
    Kat, I hear you about Gone with the Wind.  We watched the movie when we studied the American Civil War at school, so I knew the ending – when I read the book a few months later, I stopped reading at the place where Rhett carries her up the stairs and they have hot sexxoring and made my very own HEA!!  So much better than the actual stupid &*#$# ending!!

  5. noothergods says:

    Though I am anything but a romance reader I also have a bad habit of skipping to the end.  The only books I’ve found this to ruin for me are mysterys, which I simply can’t read…even mystery movies tend to be too easy for me to predict, though the good ones are worth it.

  6. Kat says:

    I have to agree. It’s not often I find mysteries that aren’t predictable to some extent. I don’t mind the predictability as long as it’s clever (without trying too hard to be too clever). And again, I read them for the characters and relationships as much as the mystery itself.

  7. I just discovered your blog (I do live under the proverbial rock. Truer than true, but I digress. :-D)! I’m in love, you took the words right out of my … heart. Here’s to kindred spirits.

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