The 100 best last lines of novels

Berthe Morisot, La lecture

This, from the American Book Review, by way of the Utne Reader, (click through for the .pdf) is old, but I just found it. Of course, lists like this are all gimmicks, and you can think of five objections in 10 seconds to the basic concept of this one—beginning with the concept of Best. But it’s a reasonable list, I enjoyed it, and it at least has the merit of showing off some arresting writing that can remind you of something you should read or re-read. (Actually, any list that includes both The Invisible Man and Tristram Shandy is probably going to be OK with me.)

So, leaving aside Best as the cataloguers here mean it:

As far as American novels are concerned, the two best known last lines are almost certainly No. 3, from Gatsby (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”) and No. 5, from Huck Finn (“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”)—probably in opposite order.

Forced to include the Brits (sigh), the best known of all 100 has to be No. 8, from Tale of Two Cities (“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”)

And the most beloved must be No. 66, from Pooh Corner (“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.”), don’t you think?

On the personal side:

The one that helped send me as a young reader off in the most radically different direction: No. 9, from Heart of Darkness.

The one I was happiest to see because I didn’t expect it to make the list (about as unfashionable as possible right now): No. 54, from My Antonia.

A few special favorites delightedly discovered (rediscovered?) here: Nos. 2, 6, 7, 19, 21, 26, 95: from Invisible Man, The Sun Also Rises, 1984, Tristram Shandy, Cat’s Cradle, Catch-22, and Bang the Drum Slowly (pretty good advice: “From here on in I rag nobody.”).

Of course, an uncounted number of these last lines that I never got to because I never read the first ones. (And a few I never got to because I did.)



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