Friday, February 18, 2011

Best Last Lines

Claudie A has a brilliant post up on her awesome blog right now on the importance of first lines, and how the right one grabs you and reels you in. It got me to thinking about last lines (I've always been contrary) and how those are just as important. 

Ever since Shakespeare ended Hamlet with The rest is silence and maybe even before (I haven't done any research for this post) last lines have been sticking with people. And it's not always the happy ending that is the most memorable. Sometimes it's the sucker punch that leaves you gasping for breath, like in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: He loved Big Brother. 

For me, my favourite last line ever is from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The whole book is beautifully written. It is set in Germany in World War Two, and narrated by Death. Death is ageless, maybe tired, and maybe lonely. I borrowed from Wilfred Owen when I pictured him: His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin.  Death's attention is caught by the girl Leisel, the book thief. He is fascinated by her. He encounters her three times in her life without taking her. The fourth time, of course, it is inevitable. And at the end of the book, in the very last line, Death makes his confession: I am haunted by humans. 

Nothing I write here can do justice to how powerful that line feels when you read it in context. It's a beautiful, tragic end to a beautiful, tragic book. That line stayed with me for days after I finished The Book Thief. It was perfect. 

Great first lines will hook you, but great last lines will never let you go. 

What is the best last line you've ever found? 



Buy the Book Thief here at Amazon.


  

6 comments:

  1. That is a powerful line. I'll have to check that out.

    The best last line I've ever read? I really don’t know. But I just pulled a bunch of books from the shelves and the best one I could find was from So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish:

    There was a point to this story, but it has temporarily escaped the chronicler’s mind.

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  2. I'm gonna have to give this one some thought.

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  3. Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut:

    One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, "Poo-tee-weet?"

    It's my favorite line because at the end of chapter one, right before he starts telling the story of Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut writes:

    [This story] begins like this:
    Listen:
    Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
    It ends like this:
    Poo-tee-weet?

    And indeed, both things are in fact true! Talk about a reliable narrator!

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  4. Thanks for the link, Jen!

    I don't know if it's the best last line I've read, but Tigana has a twist ending that's well worth stating. Three characters are traveling together and the line goes something like "Three men witnessed the riselka."

    And the riselka is a fabled creature, whose sight can change your life. With three men, you know that one dies, one has a major change in life and the other meets success.

    So Kay basically leaves hanging which of these three awesome character has which fate. It's beautifully mean. XD

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  5. Yes, I think it's the unexpected last lines that sum up a novel or answer our questions are the ones that work.

    I don't think I have a favourite last line, but a quote that I like goes like this'The first page sells the first book, the last page sells teh second book.'

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  6. Thanks for the comments, guys!

    MC, Douglas Adams is a good example of pretty much everything!

    Cacy, I can't believe I didn't mention Vonnegut! Slaughterhouse-Five is just brilliant. I remember having a huge argument with a friend who wouldn't read it because it was "kinda sci-fi, isn't it?" "It's kinda friggin' awesome" might have been my response.

    Claudie, no probs! Also, that ending sounds unbelievably cruel to the reader, but also really, really clever. Now I am intrigued, and need to check it out.

    D, I like that quote. I always come back to the authors who left an impression the first time.

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