I remember the shock of reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Truman Capote) and realising I’d been lied to: Holly Golightly leaves the story without accepting Paul’s love. There is no magical kiss in the rain, there is no possibility of belonging to another, as the movie so dramatically displays. The book is, quite simply, one that speaks of Holly Golightly but does not follow her into happily ever after.
Similarly, Pygmalion (Bernard Shaw) does not result in Eliza returning to Henry Higgins. My Fair Lady – funnily enough, starring Audrey Hepburn, as does Breakfast at Tiffany’s – gave me the impression that one simply does not marry a man she does not love. Pygmalion, the play My Fair Lady is based on, speaks of reality; that just because a story is centred on a man and a woman, does not mean they fall passionately in love, does not mean they beat the odds, does not mean their story is any less important.
A little while ago I wrote this post about fairytales, happy endings, and our reality. I suppose it’s been hanging around in my mind ever since, because I’m writing about it again.
When I work on my novels, I can’t help but have a hopeful, beautiful ending in mind. I can’t help but fill the pages with a hint of romance, with the possibility that the protagonist is wanted. This is not to say I write romance stories, because romance is not the focus, nor the point. But it is always involved somehow. I also have no problem in writing open endings, or ones that don’t come together neatly. I like leaving a few details hanging, several possibilities for the protagonist, nothing completely sorted out.
In saying this, my endings are still hopeful. While I may not give the protagonist everything their heart desires, I do not leave them in a worse state than when their story began.
I am not so sure the Holly Golightly from the book would have had a happy life, had Truman Capote chosen to continue her story. The movie version, however, I can picture Holly living a better life than before we met her.
However, something of the book impacts me in a way the movie doesn’t. Yes, the movie is beautiful and yes, I do love the happy ending. (And yes, I do love Audrey Hepburn.) But the book is raw in a way the movie isn’t. The book is rough and doesn’t always sit comfortably. The book takes time and effort in a way the movie does not.
There is something to be said for the author who can take sadness and write it into something beautiful, into something you can’t take your eyes off, even though you might want to. There is something to be said for the novel, for the fiction, that still speaks the truth, and is unafraid of its ability to cut into you, to see right through you.
I do believe, though, that a novel can be both happy and true.
That a novel can contain the loveliest of endings and still make an impact. That a happy ending, or a magical kiss in the rain, does not cancel out the possibility of a lesson learnt, or a painful situation overcome. In fact, a happy ending that is not the result of some kind of fight for the ‘happy’ doesn’t feel satisfactory.
And maybe in real life, people don’t always end up together and it’s not quite so clear-cut as in the movies. But people in real life also do get married. There are Holly Golightly’s of the world who accept the love of their Paul, there are Eliza Doolittle’s who return to their Henry Higgins. And no, their ‘happily ever after’ isn’t going to last forever, and they’re going to have problems to work through after The End. But they are together.