This is part one of an ongoing series of posts on elements that make endings work. The intro is here. Today’s #SpoilerAlert is for The English Patient. Enjoy!
  1. Stakes Are High

The corollary to this is We Care About The Charactersbecause without that, the stakes will never truly feel high, even if the world is about to end (see: Armageddon). We don’t have to like them, they can be evil even, but we have to care; in some way, their fate has to matter.

Ok, we care about the characters. Now for the ending to really have that kick that speaks volumes and creates eddy after eddy of thought and resonance, the characters’ tragedies and triumphs can connect, whether figuratively or literally, to the outside world. A social resonance. It can come out of nowhere and still harken back to a gradual gathering throughout the text. Or it can be interlaced blatantly throughout. The English Patient is a historical novel but the majority of it revolves around the inner lives and romances of various characters and their overlapping trajectories. The war is experienced textually on a very human, day-to-day level, not for its wider political significance. Then just as the bomb diffuser is about to spend the rest of his life with a white lady he doesn’t really love, the US bombs Nagasaki and his entire conception of the Western World shatters. In the final couple of pages a single gut decision based on the madness of history leaves a devastating sense of truth in its wake.