Thursday, July 31, 2008


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What are your favourite final sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its last sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the last line?

I read this question and realized, while I do have favorite endings I don't actually know the final sentence of any book except Virginia Woolf's The Waves:

"...Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O Death!"

The waves broke on the shore.

Not bad, huh?

There was only one other ending I remembered by heart. That's not a sentence at all, but the sounding of an axe chopping down the tree in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. I'll give you the last sentence in the context of the entire last line of Firs, the old servant, and the stage directions that follow.

Firs: (goes up to the door and touches the handle) Locked. They've gone away... They forgot me...It's nothing...I'll sit here a while...And Leonid Andreich didn't put on his fur coat. I suppose, he must have gone away in his light one...(Sighs anxiously.) I just didn't look after it...Oh, these green young things - they never learn! (Mumbles something that cannot be understood.) Life just slipped by as if I'd never even lived... I'll lie down for a while... You just don't have any strength, none, nothing's lieft. nothing at all...Oh, you...silly galoot, you!...

He lies motionless. A sound is heard far off in the distance, as if coming from the sky. It is the sound of a string breaking that dies away sadly. A stillness falls, and nothing is heard but the sound of an axe striking a tree far away in the orchard.

"Oh, you silly galoot" or sometimes "Oh you bungler" chop, chop, chop. Chekhov really knew what he was doing.

But having gone and checked, there are a few other memorable ones. I'll present some of them in the context of their few last lines.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
by Gertrude Stein:

About six weeks ago Gertrude Stein said, it does not look to me as if you were ever going to write that autobiography. You know what I am going to do. I am going to write it for you. I am going to write it as simply as Defoe did the autobiography of Robinson Crusoe. And she has and this is it.

That book is a howl.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger:
Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

Breath the new novel by Tim Winton (I am just crazy about this book):
They probably don't understand this, but it's important for me to show them that their father is a man who dances - who saves lives and carries the wounded, yes, but who also does something completely pointless and beautiful., and in this at least he should need no explanation.

I could be mean and post the ending of Anna Karenina, but in case you haven't read it, I won't. Someone told me the ending as I sat in a movie theater and Citizen Kane was about to start in my senior year in college. I was still reading it and I wanted to kill them.


gautami tripathy said...

I know the feeling of murdering someone! I had just started The The Murder of Roger Acryod by Agatha Christie and my friend told me the who was the murderer. It is supposed to be the best book by her and I did not finish it. I still want to kill my friend!

SmilingSally said...

For me, a favorite ending is the feeling of satisfaction I have that the book said it all.

Anonymous said...

I've been hearing wonderful things about Breath . I think the scales are tipping in favor of picking it up soon. Thanks for a great recommendation!

Karen Harrington said...

Great examples!

Anonymous said...

Catcher in the Rye... oh, now I remember why I hated it! It's so cynical and depressing, chock full of whining and obnoxious teenager.

Love the rest of them though ;-)

Confuzzled Shannon said...

I like the one from Catcher in the Rye.

Anonymous said...

Well, I did post the ending of Anna Karenina, which I'm reading right now. It's my third time reading it. The ending is one of the best in terms of reflecting upon the meaning and existence of life.

I finished Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas recently but haven't had a chance to review it yet. It's the most hilarious ending! You've got great selections here!

Ted said...

Gautami - How mean!

Smiling Sal - That's a nice way to interpret it.

Readville - I avoided it myself because I thought I wouldn't be interested in a novel about surfing but it's not ABOUT surfing, it's just about characters who surf.

Karen - Thank you.

TKM - Not a Holden fan - eh?

Confuzzled - I have to read the book again. I have only read excerpts of it lately, say the last five years or so, and I'm always touched by them.

Matt - I meant the ending of AK as opposed to the final sentence. Tolstoy is a wonder at finding a way to express the depth of life's experiences. I love that you included Maurice. I couldn't find my copy this morning. I couldn't remember where Forster left us - it's with Clive - just like that final shot of the movie. So sad, really.

Unknown said...

I forgot about the ending to Catcher. Mark me down in the pro-
Catcher column.