Monday, August 27, 2012

Great last lines

Everyone talks about great opening lines, but what about great last lines? Here's the end of a crime novel I've read recently, and if this doesn't fill you with a longing for danger and thrills, you're a cooler customer than I: 
"I’m not staying here.

"I’ll be leaving one of these days, and the day I do they’ll never forget it."
Unfortunately, I can't reveal the title of the book; to do so would be a spoiler.  But I can ask you for some of your favorite last lines from novels, stories, poems, or movies. And let me know if you recognize the passage quoted above!

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

15 Comments:

Blogger Fred said...

Last lines? This is my favorite ending for a poem, It's by T. S. Eliot--"The Hollow Men".

This is the way the World ends
This is the way the World ends
This is the way the World ends,
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Matthew E said...

I may be able to think of a few more, but let's start with the end of Terry Pratchett's Reaper Man:

Azrael said, "I REMEMBER WHEN ALL THIS WILL BE AGAIN."

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Good God, Fred, is that last line the origin of the familiar phrase?

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Matthew, I'm not sure whether that leaves the reader hanging from a cliff or scratching his head.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

As far as I can tell, it is. I frequently have seen references to the poem when that last line is quoted.

August 27, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Is there a better final line than that of Finnegans Wake, Peter?

A way a lone a last a loved the long a

Isn't that a wonderful line, Peter. Doesn't that make your heart bleed? The way those...hang on a second, I've got that wrong. Of course that should have read:

The way a lone a last a loved a long a

Silly me! What a difference a word out of place can make! It sounds so much better when...oh, heck, I've got it wrong again. It really should be:

A lone a last the way a loved a long a

Feck me! That's not it either. Here's the right dope, Peter:

A loved a lone a last a way the long a

Yes, that's it. That's definitely it. At least, I think it is. Isn't it? Hell, no that's not it either. Bear with me, Peter.

The long a way a last a lone a loved

Bollocks.

A last a lone a long the way a loved a

Fuck.

Oh, heck, just look the thing up on the internet. It's a helluva line. It'll be worth your while. It's James Fucking Joyce, after all.

August 27, 2012  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, --
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori
. -- the last line of the poem, Dulce et decorum est, Wilfred Owen, 1917

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I now know more than I did before your comment. I don't believe I had ever seen a reference to that poem.

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A way a lone a last a loved a 15
long the 16
PARIS, 17
1922-1939. 18

August 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I'd say the last two lines get the job done in that poem, which I had not known before.

August 27, 2012  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon were two of the best World War One poets. They'll each rip your heart out.

September 02, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I always find the idea of war poets odd, but why should I? Maybe because such poetry has not achieved great circulation in the U.S. recent years.

September 02, 2012  
Blogger Fred said...

Peter,

I don't remember any war poets in Orwell's 1984 either.

September 02, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

"Now I sit by my window and watch the cars.
I fear I'll do some damage one fine day." --"Still Crazy After All These Years," Paul Simon

The opening sells the book, but the ending sells the next one.

Classic fiction can end with a yes (Joyce's ULYSSES) or a no (Beckett's NO'S KNIFE) but genre crime fiction often uses the snappy last line.

A good one is Declan Burke's "Whatever you say, say nothing."

But I agree with Eoin McNamee when he said that all novelists ought to shoot for the transcendental. The last paragraph of his novel RESURRECTION MAN is simply brilliant.

As in the best love songs, last lines can marry the finite particular to the infinite and eternal. Lawrence Block's last two sentences in A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF are "And then he picked up his glass. There was nothing in it but water, but all the same he held it aloft and gazed through it at the light."

That too satisfies on both a concrete finite and a symbolically infinite level.

Last year at this time I blogged about thriller author Thomas H. Cook's THE CITY WHEN IT RAINS. His last page is well crafted. His existential protagonist walks across a New York bridge "with emptiness below, he knew, and above, more emptiness."

"And yet?"

"Standing."

And the reader knows, he is grateful to be thus.

September 03, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yikes! I read Resurrection Man some time ago and was impressed, but I don't remember the last line.

I haven're read too many crappy opening lines, but I have read far too many virtually identical opening chapters about the last day of the unsusecting victim's life.

September 03, 2012  

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