The Unbearable Finiteness of a Series

There is something about the title of Milan Kundera’s most famous novel that endlessly lends itself to substitution.  However, it is not the Prague Spring that occupies my thoughts, but detective fiction.

The books I am particularly concerned with are the Inspector Joseph French series by Freeman Wills Crofts, but my observations hold true of any series of books, which I hold dear.

It is an irrefutable truth that, no matter how extensive the series of books––and Freeman Wills Crofts wrote twenty-nine full-length novels featuring Inspector French, not to mention numerous short stories––at some point it will come to an end.  It may involve months, or even years of reading to complete a series but, there will come that inevitable moment, when there are simply no more books left.  For some people, this might be a moment of celebration and achievement but, for me, it is invariably one of sadness.  When you have invested not just time but emotion in a character, reaching the end of that line feels something like a bereavement.  At that deathbed moment, I find myself willing for one last breath; one final story; one previously undiscovered manuscript to be brought to light.  But it is a futile hope.  Despite their illusory promise of immortality, all series are finite.

It is a funny thing, there is something so rigid about the finite but, in terms of a defined term, it is a lot woollier than infinity.  Infinity may not be quantifiable, but it is imaginable; the finite, on the other hand, can appear in so many different ‘guises that it defies recognition.  If I had an infinite number of Inspector French stories at my disposal, I would tackle them with gusto; read them avidly with a reckless abandon.  However, since I know that the Inspector French series is finite, I treat it with unnatural circumspection.  For the first half-dozen or so books I may have galloped through their contents with little regard to the future but, as soon as I recognised that I was in the company of both a companionable but also an exhaustible friend, my behaviour has changed.  I have started to slow up; have stopped reading novel after novel but, instead, have interjected a different author in between; attempting to delay the process; that awful moment when I reach the end of the series.

Is this procrastination just an acknowledgment of my own mortality?  A recognition that Life is nothing more than our own personal series of novels?

© Fergus Longfellow

Fergus Longfellow considers finitude.

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