On Monday, I did a post on first lines in literature, and today I’m going to look at the last lines of stories. The first line of a story does not have to be brilliant, but it is important as the reader’s first impression of the story. The last line is even less important, of course, because the reader has already read the entire story and the last line is not going to make much difference either way. The only exception is a writer like H.P. Lovecraft, who often revealed the twist of the whole story in the very last sentence.
Still, I am interested in last lines. Most are nothing special, but some of them sum up the whole story very beautifully and leave the reader with a lasting impression of things. Here are some of the ones I really like, but first an explanation and caveat: first lines are often very quotable because they don’t rely on any context. They can’t; they’re the first sentence. But last lines only make sense when taken with the book as a whole. And there are often spoilers. I couldn’t tell you the last line of “The Wasp Factory” by Iain Banks without giving away the major plot twist. Anyway…
“We look forward to getting you back.” Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk. This is so perfect because it has a hint of foreboding. The main character escaped and you thought the story was over. It isn’t…
“The creatures outside looked pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Animal Farm, by George Orwell. This is the perfect ending for this, since that’s the whole point of the book, that the pigs eventually become exactly like the thing they tried to get rid of.
“And, feeling better, fixed herself at last a cup of black, hot coffee.” Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. I like this because I think a cup of coffee is a good end to anything.
And probably my favorite ending to a book for sheer poignancy and summing things up is from Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
“‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”
Do you know any good last lines? Do you put much work into them in your own writing? Share your thoughts in the comments.
November 16th, 2012 at 8:28 pm
I always liked American Psycho’s: This is not an exit.
And Middlemarch: ‘The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that the things that are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.’
November 17th, 2012 at 12:45 am
I have yet to read both of those. I have Middlemarch and want to read it, but the length is quite daunting.
November 18th, 2012 at 1:32 am
I understand that. It’s well-worth it, though
November 16th, 2012 at 9:55 pm
One book I read … I can’t remember what it was, it ended with “Then he died” so no follow up book there then.
Thanks for regularly coming to my blog for a visit.
November 17th, 2012 at 12:45 am
No problem, I love your stuff. Nice new icon, BTW 🙂
November 17th, 2012 at 12:47 am
Thanks David 🙂
November 17th, 2012 at 2:37 am
From Matthew Kneale’s “English Passengers”, a novel set during the colonization of Tasmania and the eventual extinction of the aboriginals there:
“Nobody seemed very interested.”
November 17th, 2012 at 2:06 pm
That’s a powerful ending, although it seems a bit bleak. I guess it’s realistic though.
November 17th, 2012 at 10:16 pm
What I like so much about it is that the book is written as a sort of rollicking-comedy-historical-action-adventure, there’s nothing maudlin or hand-wringing in the telling at all. You’re swept up in this really intriguing tale, but when you end up at that line, the bubble sort of bursts, and you think, “Oh. Right.”
November 17th, 2012 at 11:22 am
Actually, I find the last line far more important than the first, at least for myself. To me, it’s part of the summary of the story, the last chance to either leave a twist, drop a bombshell, or leave the reader with something to complete things. I hate when it leaves me with a question or leaves me hanging. I don’t mind the setup for a sequel as much as when that last line leaves me hanging with no obvious sequel.
November 17th, 2012 at 2:05 pm
I think it’s more important (or at least used to greater effect) with short stories. I do like it when a novel has a really great last line though.
November 18th, 2012 at 3:36 pm
Best last line ever is the end of “Tale of Two Cities”.
I love last lines, especially short story last lines.
November 23rd, 2012 at 3:01 pm
loved the compilation. animal farm is amazing! is not it? i have not had the chance of reading lord of the rings, but will sure love to!
November 23rd, 2012 at 5:23 pm
I’m starting to itch to read Lord of the Rings again. It is such an amazing story. I could read it 100 times and not be tired of it.