“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” by Iain Reid

1.

Many months ago, my Twitter feed was awash with raves and praises for Charlie Kaufman’s newest film I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I watched the trailer out of sheer curiosity and was immediately convinced to see the film.

I went on Netflix, found the movie right on the front page, and noticed that its runtime was over two hours. Ang haba naman, I thought. I might as well just read the book.

So that’s exactly what I did. I read the book instead.

2.

I write this post for people who, a) have already read the book or, b) have no plans of reading the book at all. I write this post to help me streamline my thoughts, and I write this post with absolute disregard for potentially “ruining your experience” — whatever the hell that means — if you haven’t read the book yet.

In other words, spoiler alert. #damingsinabi

3.

In the book How To Read Literature, critic Terry Eagleton sheds light on the inextricability of literary form and content. Eagleton asserts that when reading a work of literature, it is imperative that we pay close attention not only to what is said (content) but also to how the message is delivered (form).

What stands out to me in Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things is precisely the formal workings of its language. The story’s psychological horror is underpinned by its monotonous narration, and this is evident right from the get-go:  

I’m thinking of ending things.

Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It dominates. There’s not much I can do about it. Trust me. It doesn’t go away. It’s there whether I like it or not. It’s there when I eat. When I go to bed. It’s there when I sleep. It’s there when I wake up. It’s always there. Always.

The opening lines consist of curt sentences that are roughly of similar lengths. I find it annoying. Writers are often advised to vary the lengths of their clauses to make a paragraph more readable, yet Reid here does the opposite. In effect, the book’s opening salvo sounds like a series of terse anaphora with a fragment in the middle that lends a subtle lilt to the otherwise dry humdrum of words.

This jarring singsong rhythm is sustained all throughout the text. It is apparent even in heated moments, even when the plot rises to its climax. Notice, for example, how Reid structures the scene in which the narrator is being chased by a mysterious stranger in an abandoned school in the dead of night:

I can get back to the stairwell. It’s just across the hall. I can get up to the third floor. Maybe Jake is there. I squeeze my eyes shut. I make fists with my hands. My heart is thumping. I hear the boots again. It’s him. He’s looking for me.

The monotony becomes very difficult to ignore at this point. The sentences read like a play-by-play account presented in bullet form, which, in my admittedly worthless opinion, does not make for elegant prose at all.

Still, I breezed through the entire book. I wasn’t particularly invested in the characters, and clearly I wasn’t impressed by the language — I simply wanted to know the ending. The story had numerous nonsensical threads and I was genuinely curious how the author would tie all the yarns together. (Sometimes this is all it takes, ‘no?)

In the end, the female narrator is revealed to be just a figment of her boyfriend Jake’s imagination. The meat of the story is told/written from Jake’s perspective, so everything is all made up — a sort of “what-if” scenario that Jake has conjured in his head had he pursued that one girl in the bar and had he confronted his deep-seated issues with his parents. It is a sad ending, I must say. The title is no longer a simple musing about breaking up with a significant other; it deals with something more serious, something heavier.

And because I was mildly shookt by the ending, I felt the need to reconcile the dryness of the text’s language with the story itself. Why was I moved despite my earlier misgivings about the boring narration?

One way to describe the text’s rhythm is to call it “robotic” — it is stiff and machine-like, but it also suggests an aura of artificiality that perfectly aligns with the narrative’s twist. I think this is why the ending got to me. The twist is not too different from other cop-out literary endings (i.e. everything is just a dream, everyone dies, etc.) but I somehow perceived this forged — forced? — unity between form and content, and so everything made sense.

At the end of the day, however, this book is still one of the many works of fiction that zeroes in on the individual with little recognition of the external (read: social, political, economic) conditions that birth, or at least mold, their problems. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; I just personally prefer my fiction to not revolve around a purely post-politics space.

Of course this isn’t to say that I’m Thinking of Ending Things has no grander ambitions beyond portraying the woes of a sick boy. It poses interesting insights on loneliness and regret, and if I had to pick a takeaway, it would be this: we are the stories we tell ourselves. Aren’t we?

Okay, maybe not. I don’t really know.

4.

I wrote the bulk of this post a long time ago. I haven’t revisited the book since then, but I still agree with most of what I said here.

Also, I still haven’t watched the movie yet. Neither Isla nor Kim liked the film so, yeah — I guess I’ll still pass on it for now. Maybe I’ll end up watching it one day. Maybe not.


Featured photo from Amazon.

16 Comments

  1. Leah Ranada

    Nice observation about the link between form and content. That you managed to note this is admirable, kasi my only take is napikon ako sa ending. 😂 Yung point ko, if they found dead chickens instead of dead cattle, were served by men in neon shirts instead of a pimply girl in DQ, etc., the ending would still be the same. I was intrigued throughout though and it was a quick read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Haha, good point! Marami ngang “replaceable” details na medyo weird for weirdness’ sake ang dating. And I agree na super quick read nga nito! 🙂

      And oi, excited na ako sa novel mo! Hihihihi. May pa-teaser ba d’yan? Ano genre? Horror din ba? Hehehe. 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Kimberly

    I guess I had a hard time with it because I was waiting for a conclusion which made sense, and it was hard to arrive there without the characters’ thoughts (although it was being narrated?) because the film limits it. Baka yun talaga yung problema ko. Haha!

    But liked the film’s attempt to redefine and tag it as a horror movie because it does leave you with a disconcerted feeling you can’t actually pinpoint, which must be the goal all along.

    And because you explain it so well, I might give reading it a try. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Ooooh, I see! Marami nga sa nabasa kong film reviews ang nagsabi na you need to have read the book for you to understand the conclusion. Baka pareho lang tayo ng impression sa film kung pinanood ko rin ‘yung pelikula before reading, hehe.

      Naku, don’t blame me ‘pag ‘di mo magustuhan book a! Hahaha. 😀

      Like

  3. Thea

    WOW. Ang ganda ng binasa ko huhu. Thank you for this Jolens. Feel ko kaya ganon yung movie is because ganoon yung book. Monotonous parang ganyan. Tapos feeling ko kasi talaga sinayang ko yung oras ko doon sa movie, siguro baka iba yung experience ko if nabasa ko yung book. I will try to read the book one of these days hehe ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jolens

      Tingin ko rin baka iba ang experience ko kung napanood ko movie without reading the book. Baka same tayo, sayang lang sa oras, ganyan. Hahaha.

      ‘Di ko lang sure though kung matutuwa ka sa book ngayong alam mo na ang mangyayari. Walang sisihan a! Haha. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thea

        HAHAHA walang sisihan siyempre bwahaha.
        Question lang, napanood mo na ba yung Your Name tsaka Weathering With You? Sobrang random sorry hindi connected dito kaso wala lang gusto ko lang din marining thoughts mo about sa mga anime films na iyan hahaha ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Carmina Mones

    Have not read the book, but I’ve seen the movie on Netflix because people were kinda hyping it up. Iginapang ko lang. I was so lost and distracted with this movie. Like binabasa ko ngayon ‘tong review mo and I keep on thinking ano nga bang nangyari sa pelikulang ‘to?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jolens

      Hindi ko pa rin napapanood movie, haha. Kamusta ba para sa ‘yo ang ibang pelikula ni Kaufman? Mahilig yata talaga siya sa mga nakaka-confuse na eme haha.

      Like

      1. Carmina Mones

        Akshuli, yung mga old movies niya talaga yung main reason bakit ko pinanood ‘tong movie na ‘to. I like going into movies na wala akong idea kahit ano bukod sa trailer haha tas sobrang excited ako to relive yung feeling na naramdaman ko nung Eternal Sunshine at Being John Malkovich tas and ending sa ‘kin ahmmmm

        Liked by 1 person

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