The ending of The House of M remains ambiguous. In a world where people’s shadows are disappearing, resulting in memory loss and the descent into violent madness, Max leaves her husband, Orly, in order to protect him from the effects of her condition. Orly, however, braves many dangers to find Max, hoping that they can be together for whatever time she has left before her memory fades completely.
As her memory begins to fail, Max records her remaining memories by speaking into a tape recorder. Max hears about a man who may have the ability to restore her memory, but the cure is not what it seems. The only way Max’s memory can be preserved is if her shadow is transferred to a different person. When Orly tracks down the woman he believes to be Max, he instead finds Ursula, a stranger who listened to all of the recordings and now has both Max’s memories and her personality.
One of the central themes of the novel is the role memory plays in relationships and society. When people lose their memories, they forget their connection to others and lose their grasp on the skills necessary to survive. By losing their shadows, they lose the essence of themselves. If a person is stripped of memory and identity, however, that person could essentially become anyone. The ending puts Orly in a position in which he must decide which woman he loves: Max, his wife who no longer remembers him, or Ursula, a stranger who does.