Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Ambiguous Endings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is: Books without an Epilogue, but I’m tweaking it into Books with Anbiguous Endings, because they stay in my mind long after I’ve finished reading, wondering what happened next. Having said that I also enjoy Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries where Poirot or Miss Marple tie up all the loose ends at the end of the story.

But they don’t linger in my mind, unlike the last lines of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (my review) – ‘I’ll think of it all tomorrow, at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all tomorrow is another day.’ What happens next is left to the reader to decide … and I love that.

The following are all books that end ambiguously that I’ve enjoyed. The links are to my reviews, except for The Magus, which is linked to Goodreads

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Kate Grenville – The picnic, which began innocently and happily, ends in explicable terror, and some of the party never returned. What happened to them remains a mystery.

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide. The ending which gave me much pause (pun not intended) for thought, is ambiguous, a mystery left hanging for you to decide for yourself what had happened – inevitable, I thought. Even the cover is ambiguous only showing part of the cat’s face.

The Deep by Alma Katsu – The story revolves around Annie Hebbley, a stewardess on the Titanic and a nurse on the Britannic. The ending is so ambiguous – just who was Annie Hebbley? It is surreal and you just have to make your own mind up.

The Buried Giant by Kazuru Ishiguru – mysterious, beguiling and slippery, hard to pin down in parts and startlingly clear in others. From a somewhat slow start it gripped my imagination and made me think, trying to pin down just what was happening as the prose is clear and yet ambiguous. It is extraordinary and mesmerising!

The Fatherland by Robert Harris – an ‘alternative history’, historical fiction that never was. But this is predominantly crime fiction, that makes you think about the nature of good and evil and about the ways in which society handles corruption. The ending is suitably ambiguous – all the loose ends are not neatly tied up.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – Just what did happen is never stated explicitly and the reader is left to puzzle it out with just a few clues. I’m not sure I got the whole picture, but I enjoyed trying to unravel the mystery. In the end I think it illustrates the nature of memory rather than being concerned about what actually happened.

Atonement by Ian McEwan – In the book and also in the film we see different versions of the same events, which adds depth and introduces uncertainty and ambiguity about what actually happened.What did actually happen – it’s up to the reader to decide.

The Magus by John Fowles – I read this many years ago and whilst my memory of it is hazy now I do remember that it was sometimes difficult to work out what was real and what was not, and that it ends inconclusively, with two possible outcomes.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – not just an ambiguous ending, but full of confusion and misdirection throughout. The story took several ambiguous turns, so that I was not quite sure what was really happening. Was the house really haunted or was it all an effect of what was going on in their minds, or was it all just in Eleanor’s fevered imagination? The mystery haunted me.

12 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books with Ambiguous Endings

  1. What a very neat twist on this week’s TTT, love it! Your first choice was Picnic at Hanging Rock, and I couldn’t agree more. I have only watched the TV show and the older movie, and in both cases, I was thinking for days later on what might really have happened and how can we possibly find out? Amazing.


  2. I love your approach to this week’s topic! Ambiguous endings sometimes irritate me, but in other cases they work very well – I agree that the last lines of Gone With the Wind are perfect. You’ve also reminded me that I still haven’t read Fatherland!


  3. This is a fantastic list, Margaret! And there are some fine books with ambiguous endings, of course. I have to say, I’m not sure that always works for me. I’ve read some where it does and some where…it doesn’t. I think it has to do with what is left ambiguous and how the author handles it?


  4. Excellent tweak–GWTW I hated both sequels that came out in the 90s, but I do wonder….. Such an interesting list. I had nothing this week. Couldn’t work the topic and didn’t come up with a tweak. It happens. Good work!


  5. Sometimes epilogues can ruin an otherwise good book. And I liked the ambiguous endings of both Gone With the Wind and Picnic at Hanging Rock, too. Fun tweak on this week’s TTT! 😀


  6. This is a great take on today’s topic. I think ambiguous endings are fun, especially with thrillers or unreliable narrators. Those are my favorite. 🙂


  7. I tend to like more explicit endings but ambiguous endings are growing on me as I get older for some reason. I didn’t care for The Haunting of Hill House because of the narrator of the audiobook but I did love We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I think that ending may have been ambiguous too. Or maybe it was just twisty? Either way, I recommend it.

    Picnic at Hanging Rock is on my Classics Club list. I’ll get around to reading it someday.


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