BEFORE YOU BEGIN:
This post contains a lot of spoilers about Tony and Susan. Also, Nocturnal Animals, the film adaptation.
Despite only being around 400 pages long, this book is a complex one and gives you a lot to think about after it’s over. I’m going to analyse this book in a bit of an unusual way and talk about the ending first, because it sets the pace, and pretty much forces you to think about the novel in a certain way. The ending isn’t a conclusion. It’s more like the beginning of something else – what that something is is up for the reader to decide.
Does Edward ever reply to Susan’s note? Does she leave Arnold? Do she and Edward ever get back together?
Here’s what I think.
The novel isn’t about people doing things; it’s about people’s failure to do things. Edward sends Susan the novel because he couldn’t bring himself to express his emotions plainly and clearly after the divorce. He had years to dwell on it while he was single (or was he? Maybe he wasn’t, but he could just never really get over Susan.) Either way, it’s clear the break-up has affected him in quite a significant way, and sending the novel to Susan is his way of expressing how she made him feel.
But why all the violence? couldn’t Edward simply have written a story about a failed relationship, to say it in plainer terms? I don’t think so. Edward wanted to intimidate Susan and make her feel scared. I think he also, to an extent, wanted to make her question marriage as a concept. He’s asking her: can you ever really trust people. Did she really ever know him?
At this point, it’s important to think about the way Susan describes Edward when they first met. He was sexually inexperienced, polite, without a hint of danger about him. He was a virgin, which means Susan likely held more power when it came to sex. The takeaway here shouldn’t be that Susan is somehow to blame for what happens in the future, but that the Edward of the past and that the current Edward are like two completely different people.
Of course, this scene serves a narrative purpose; we want to know how exactly Susan came to divorce him and marry Edward. But aside from that, it makes us realise that Edward has transformed from that shy person into a vengeful, possibly violent person, capable of writing a novel solely to torment his ex-wife.
This isn’t the only side to his personality, though. Although he’s turned into a bitter person, he’s still unable to express himself emotionally, just as he was then. The violence in the novel is his way of expressing anger towards Susan, her family. At the start of the novel, it stands to reason that Edward had imagined Tony as himself, but I think it’s more likely that Tony is Arnold (Susan’s current husband), and Edward is Ray (his novel’s main antagonist.)
If that’s true, it’s also important to consider whether Susan believes Edward is Tony or Ray. From reading the ending, you do get the sense that Susan has a few reservations about explaining her opinions clearly to Edward, which is why she rips up the original letter she’s written doing so.
In a way, I think Susan wants to meet Edward, leave Arnold and go back to him. I think she’s unsatisfied with her love life, and is desperate for some excitement before it becomes too late in life to go after it, which is why why she sends him the brief note, offering to meet and discuss the novel with him.
But what are you supposed to make of that ending? Edward could have met Susan at the Marriott and discussed the novel. I don’t think he ever had the intention. It seems clear to me that his only reason for writing the novel was to disturb Susan, to get her attention. But how far will Edward go to get revenge on her? There’s no real way to know, and all you can do is draw your own conclusions.
Personally, I think the novel would have had a pretty harrowing ending if it had continued, but who knows? Maybe Austin Wright just wanted to leave us in the dark.