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The bittersweet sense of an ending

My husband and I recently finished watching The Bureau on SBS, a series that followed the French intelligence service as it carried out missions around the world.

It was engrossing and I have found myself feeling a sense of loss that it is over. I am not alone in experiencing this feeling.

Urban Dictionary explains post-series depression:

“It is the sadness felt after reading or watching a really long series or story. The bitter feeling when you know the journey is over, but you don’t want it to end.

“It is the longing for the words on the pages to move for you like they did the first time you read them. When you didn’t know what the next paragraph held and the world in which the characters found themselves was entirely without limit. Because any time you re-read the story, you know that they aren’t free to roam anywhere like they were before. They are stuck in a cart on a track and all you can hope for is to notice something about the scene you didn’t before, and to just try to relive those feelings you had the first time around.

“But it will never be quite the same.”

When I finish watching my favourite television series, I tell myself that there remains some hope that I am not leaving its world altogether – that another season might be announced.

But, when it comes to books, there is usually little or no hope of a sequel, which can make the ending even more of a wrench.

This was the case when I finished reading A Gentleman in Moscow last month. The book was one of my favourites of the year so far, and was a slow-moving reflection on the life of a member of the Russian aristocracy after he was confined to a lifetime within the hotel where he resided.

It was a beautiful book and the protagonist was irresistible – polite, respectful, thoughtful and funny. The world that was created in the hotel, of dining in familiar hotels each night, firm friendships and a constant stream of interesting guests, was irresistible.

When I finished reading, I missed both the gentleman of the title and the story itself. However, while the prospect of a sequel is unlikely, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

The same can not be said for many other books whose authors died long ago – while contemporary other authors might try to conjure what happened next, there will never be a true sequel to some of our most beloved books.

We will never find out about Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy’s life together, or about what happened next to Daisy Buchanan after the death of Jay Gatsby.

More recently, some of the books that I have been particularly sad to finish have included A Fine Balance, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Brick Lane, Circe, Burial Rites, The Dictionary of Lost Words, The Silence of the Girls and Olive Kitteridge.

The feeling was only heightened when I finished reading fictional series. I missed the complicated world of Lila and Lenu from Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series and the intrigue of the English court in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy – after months of reading about these characters it was heart-breaking to say goodbye.

The experience of reading these books for the first time is not one that can be repeated or extended.

This might be why readers were so thrilled by the prospect of The Testaments. Suddenly, a bona fide literary classic had its sequel and readers couldn’t wait to get their hands on it. The novel didn’t disappoint and Margaret Atwood jointly won the Booker Prize for it.

But, in the hands of lesser author, it could have been a risky decision to tamper with what was already so well loved. As much we might think we would like to continue to read on and spend more time with our favourite characters, we need to be careful what we wish for.

Unlike a Netflix series, a single book often stands alone as a masterpiece in its own right and any further tinkering has the potential to dim its shine.

Perhaps it is a good thing they can’t continue indefinitely like a television series that is continually recommissioned – just like even a delicious ice-cream can become bland after you have over-indulged, I hate the idea of a book being compromised by its sequel.

Right now, I am about to finish reading American Dirt and I’m bracing myself for that familiar, inevitable, bittersweet sense of loss.

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