The American Book Review has published a list of what they consider to be the 100 Best Last Lines from Novels. Isn’t that the greatest idea?
The Unnameable, by Samuel Beckett, was placed number one on the list. It’s last line is, “…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” It’s a very profound line that I’ve heard quoted many times.
There are many on the list that you’d expect. For example, Scarlett O’Hara’s exclamation at the end of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind: “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day.” Or of course there’s, “And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!” from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And not surprisingly, the very chilling line at number seven: “He loved Big Brother,” from 1984 by George Orwell.
Others strike me, either those that I can’t remember, or ones I’m not familiar with because I haven’t read the books. Remembering much of the context of The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, I get uneasy when I read its last line: “Are there any questions?” And I can’t help but wonder about the intensity of the last line of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner: “I don’t hate it, he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”
I’m not surprised to see that my own favourite last line isn’t there: “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.” Do you recognize that? I once wrote a letter to a good friend, when I was away at school and very homesick, saying that what I wanted to do when I finally got to return home was say what Sam Gamgee said(**) at the end of Lord of the Rings. When I told her what it was, she said she didn’t believe that that was the last line of the book, and had to run to double check. And sure enough.
Have you ever thought about the last lines of the books you enjoy? Do you have any favourites? I have another one, from Dorothy Dunnett’s Checkmate, the sixth and crowning book of her Lymond Chronicles series: “We have reached the open sea, with some charts; and the firmament.” Got the goosebumps now.
(**In fact, it’s been the tagline of this blog since I restarted it after getting booted from its original site. It meant a lot to me, but I’m thinking of changing it, because I’m sure it doesn’t have quite the same resonance with most readers as it does for me.)