Truthful speaking would be a simple way to tell the truth, if the truth were simple and could be told.

13 March 2008

100 Best Last Lines from Novels

The American Book Review recently published this list, which someone brought to my attention. If you can't infer from the title of this post, it's a ranking of 100 great last lines of books; something you don't always see. It's a pretty good list: strong, with a good mixture of good books. Not perfect (I mean, On the Road has been included -- screw you Kerouac -- and My Antonia and two Hemingway pieces), but really really good.

Some of my favorites, in order of their appearence:

4. …I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses

12. I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. –Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

15. Before reaching the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth. –Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

20. ‘I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.’ –Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605, 1615; trans. John Rutherford)

25. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan. –Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

31. Now everybody— –Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

50. "Poor Grendel’s had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all." –John Gardner, Grendel (1971)

66. But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing. –A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner (1928)

78. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die. –Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian (1985)

94. From the sky a swift Angel descends, an Angel with a golden helmet and green spurs, a flaming sword in his hand, an Angel escaped from the Indo-Hispanic altars of opulent hunger, from need overcome by sleep, from the coupling of opposites: body and soul, wakefulness and death, living and sleeping, remembering and desiring, imagining: the happy boy who reaches the sad land carries all this on his lips, he bears the memory of death, white and extinguished, like the flame that went out in his mother’s belly: for a swift, marvelous instant, the boy being born knows that this light of memory, wisdom, and death was an Angel and that this other Angel who flies from the navel of heaven with the sword in his hand is the fraternal enemy of the first: he is the Baroque Angel, with a sword in his hand and quetzal wings, and a serpent doublet, and a golden helmet, the Angel strikes, strikes the lips of the boy being born on the beach: the burning and painful sword strikes his lips and the boy forgets, he forgets everything forgets everything,
–Carlos Fuentes, Christopher Unborn (1987;
trans. Alfred MacAdam and Carlos Fuentes)

With the exception of the Fuentes entry (which was too cool not to post) I've read all those, as well as a good majority of those books on the list. Bragging rights all around.

I think it's interesting to think of last lines. So often there has been a lot of focus on the first line, on how that's what grabs the reader and keeps them reading your work; but the last line is just as important, because that's what stays with them.

Though of course, if the entire book sucks the last line isn't going to save anything -- I'm looking at you The Swimming-Pool Library.

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