Review: I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

20 Book of Summer 2020: Book 6

I’m trying to keep to my list, but there are queue jumpers every year. In this case, Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things will be on Netflix in a few weeks. I wanted to read it before stumbling over a film debate that ruins the ending.

The initial set up is that a woman is going to meet her boyfriend’s family for dinner at their farm. The weather is cold and claustrophobic, and she questions herself for going because she’s “pretty sure” that she’s going to break up with him. His home and family are deeply strange, but beneath the abnormalities is a prevailing mood is that something is indescribably wrong. This blog is spoiler averse, but I’m inclined to say even less than usual about the plot because the suspense in the post-dinner scenes is so well crafted. Why ruin it?

Characters conduct themselves in bizarre ways and if their decisions were in any other book, I’d criticize the writer: Sure, have the character do THAT because you want them to do THIS. What a lazy set up. Here, though, the whole book is wrong so why should anyone be normal? I was still yelling: “Don’t go in there, what is wrong with you, no one would do this,” but I was yelling because I was afraid of what might happen, not because they were doing dumb things. Some elements in the writing make it feel shallow, even amateurish, but the style is justified at the end. You can either read this book or not, but if you stop in the middle only because the writing feels off… you might want to stay the course.

I almost hesitate to recommend this book because it is deeply disquieting. This is not a happy story. The title has a dual meaning and the ambiguity adds to the unease. It’s one of very few books to make me feel uncomfortably frightened, but maybe reading it very late at night wasn’t the best choice. It’s incredibly suspenseful. I don’t think it should be thought of as a “horror” novel, but it’s surely meant to unsettle the reader.

Brief note after watching the movie—
The movie is not like the book. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation in the first act, but the timey-wimey stuff at dinner is new (and distracting). The janitor and phone calls are explained in the book. There are no dance numbers or animated pigs, and the pacing is much improved. I don’t always default to saying “the book is better,” but this book is a different story and one I liked better, if only because I have no idea what story the movie was trying to tell.

Overall: 4.8 (out of 5.0) At times I’m Thinking of Ending Things verges on being experimental or gimmicky, but it creates a mood and sticks with it. There are interesting layers to pick apart and it’s not as fractured as it seems on a first reading. It leans into the weirdness and I like that.

Previously on

Books read, reviews coming soon

  • Florida by Lauren Groff
  • The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier
  • The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
  • The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • There There by Tommy Orange
  • Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann

Reading in Progress

  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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