This Quora answer to the question:
Is it possible for an entire book to be written so that at the very last phrase, the meaning of the rest of the novel changes entirely?
replies with a story identification question:
Oh, yes. There was this one book I read (can’t remember what it was called, sorry) that was about a crew of people who lived on a space station at the very edge of a vast galactic empire, who were sent to investigate an unknown spaceship that appeared in their radars from outside the empire. Throughout the book, the crew slowly realise that the spaceship was built by aliens, suffered some kind of catastrophe, and, upon discovering the dead body of the ship’s gardener, conclude that he sacrificed himself so that the rest of the crew could escape. An important sticking point is that, when the crew first come upon the alien’s workstations, they are amazed by the sheer number of buttons on the consoles, and wonder how anyone could possibly push all of those buttons. But when they find the gardener, they discover that he and his species have arms that end in a myriad of digits, far more than the crew’s, and this is what enables them to press all of those buttons.
The last paragraph of the book, in which the crew returns to their base to send a report to their superiors, states that the main character “rested his tentacle on the window”, and his love interest “put her tentacle on top of his”.
This one moment brings the reader to the staggering realisation that these characters, which they have always imagined as being humans, are actually aliens, and forces them to re-evaluate the whole book and realise that the ‘alien ship’ is actually a human spacecraft. The ‘myriad of digits’ is actually just human fingers. When I first read it, I was so surprised I actually went back through the whole book to check that they’d never been referred to as humans or made mention of fingers. And they hadn’t. The author played off the expectations of the audience while simultaneously subverting them. It was a masterstroke.
Can anyone figure out which book it refers to?