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Rewrite Endings: Bel Canto/Lanyu

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This week BTT asks:

If you could rewrite the ending of any book, which book would it be? And how would you change it?

Hands down Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It rode on the publicity of the Lima Crisis. I never reviewed the book and I read it before the blog’s time. To give you a little background, this post contains spoiler (highlighted in shade). Bel Canto is about a group of terrorists who hold high executives and people of high political standing hostage. It explores how the terrorists and hostages cope with living in a house together for several months. Among the characters who form unbreakable bonds of friendship and eventually fall in love are Roxane Coss, a famous American soprano, and Katsumi Hosokawa, the visiting chairman of a large Japanese electronics company called Nansei, for whom the party was thrown. They cultivate a deep relationship despite language barrier. Another relationship sparkles between Gen Watanabe, the interpreter, and the young terrorist Carmen. They must keep their love a secret because Carmen is forbidden to have relationships with a hostage. The two lovers meet in the china closet every night to practice Carmen’s reading and eventually to make love. At the end of the novel, the government breaks into the house and kills all the terrorists. All of the hostages survive except for Mr. Hosokawa, who dies in the struggle. The novel ends some time after the crisis; we learn that Gen and Roxane were married in Italy.

Why? Beside the fact that I didn’t resonate with any one character in the book, the ending is absolutely awful and absurd. I feel she decided to throw in a quick ending just to finish the crisis, whereas she should have concluded the novel with the rescue. The whole wedding between Gen and Roxanne is just frightfully contrived. It just doesn’t add a sense of completely the full circle to the book. I felt so jaded after this book, which is more than suffice to kill my interest in anything that she would write afterward.

Now on to the gay novel that I want re-written. In 2001, Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan adopted the novel Beijing Story by an anonymous author and produced a motion picture called Lanyu, named after one of the characters. The much-discussed film between two gay men in Beijing, played by Hu Jun and Liu Yeh, bears some striking resemblance to Brokeback Mountain. Through some discreet connection, Handong, head of a lucrative trading company purchases the virginity of Lan Yu, a country boy who goes to college in Beijing. After their one-night transaction, they meet often, and Lanyu is soon very secure in his love for Handong. But the lustful Handong insists that he wants a play-mate for no string-attached fun, not a lifelong companion, and warns Lan Yu that they will eventually break up. Denying his homosexuality, Handong decides to marry a woman, and decides that he would have nothing to do with Lanyu anymore. Completely broken-hearted, Lanyu keeps his feelings to himself and swears he will never take another lover. At the end of the story, confronted by business flop and a failed marriage, it dawns on Handong that Lanyu is his one and only true love. Shortly after they reunion, Lanyu perished in a car accident, leaving Handong to his tears and regret.

Unlike Bel Canto, the ending of Beijing Story, or Lanyu has no problem. Neither is it contrived nor awful. The story runs its course and concludes in a most heart-rending manner. My tears began to pour when Handong gets the news of Lanyu’s death. I wish the end would be re-written just so Lanyu is spared.

7 Responses

  1. I totally agree with you about Bel Canto. That’s one book that could easily have been a favorite read but the ending ruined it for me.

    • I was totally bummed. Although I wasn’t keen on the cliche manner with which she described the terrorists, but the premise of the book was interesting. I was so upset that it ended so abruptly, absurdly, and unreasonably.

  2. I never heard of Lanyu or Beijing Story before and I’m now intrigued. I’m going to look for it!

    • I’m sorry to inform you that Beijing Story is only available in Chinese language. If you’re intrigued by the story, look for the film under the title “Lanyu.”

  3. Mm that was weird. I was logged in to an abandoned wordpress account..

  4. I’m rarely annoyed by book endings and usually willing to accept them, but a couple of years ago I rented a movie, And Now My Love — from the 70’s, I’d seen it years before and wanted to see it again with my better half. At some point, it seems, the director, Claude Lelouch had restored his original ending which was incredibly awful. I mean really, really, bad. It involved this horrific jump to a dystopic future that came out of nowhere. I think sometimes the one of creates a work whether it’s a movie, book, play etc may not be the best judge of where or when it should stop.

    • I totally agree with your thought, especially the very last sentence. It makes me scream when after all the effort put into reading/watching the book/movie is not paid off.

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