Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Nths of a sending

On Sunday, Stephen Romei asked, “What are the best final sentences in literature?” He himself nominated the last sentences of Der Prozess, Nineteen Eighty-Four, L’Etranger, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, and Slaughterhouse Five.

Readers added the closing lines of Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, Mrs Dalloway, Lolita, Brave New World, and some poor soul went on and on about the film version of Philip Roth’s Dying Animal, though what it had to do with memorable literary conclusions was last lost on me [great slip!].

Roth, however, contributed one of the best endings ever: “Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”

Other personal favorites. From Invisible Man: “Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?”

The Assistant: “After Passover he became a Jew.”

Francine Prose, Blue Angel: “But how strangely light-hearted he feels, what a relief it is to admit, even just for one moment, how much he will never know.”

Janet Lewis, The Wife of Martin Guerre: “But when hate and love have together exhausted the soul, the body seldom endures for long.”

The American: “Newman instinctively turned to see if the little paper was in fact consumed; but there was nothing left of it.” (The words are not impressive, but the image, returned to its narrative context, may be the best concluding image ever. On the paper is written evidence that the two people who betrayed his trust and broke his heart—Madame de Bellegarde and her son Urbain, who had forbidden Christopher Newman’s marriage to Claire de Cintre after they had published the engagement—were guilty of murder. Making the evidence public will be his revenge, but Newman decides in the end not to follow through—decides to let go of his betrayal and broken heart. He tosses the paper into the fire. And only then does Mrs Tristram tell him that the Bellegardes had depended upon him to do that very thing, not to take revenge. Then the last sentence.)

Finally, from Herzog: “Not a single word.”

14 comments:

R. T. said...

Perhaps someone will suggest the last "sentence" of FINNEGAN'S WAKE, simply as a way of celebrating the fact that the book had finally ended.

Amateur Reader said...

This is a great idea for a post or two.

Here's maybe my favorite:

“Outside the owls hunted maternal rodents and their furry broods.” Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

D. G. Myers said...

Great last line from Scoop.

Another idea for a post would be lousy endings. Barbara Pym, for example, is a marvelous writer. But her endings are just terrible. Pick up any one of her novels and read the last sentence. If you started the book from the end, you’d never continue it.

Tickletext said...

"He went home one evening and drank three cups of tea with three lumps of sugar in each, cut his jugular with a razor three times and scrawled with a dying hand on a picture of his wife good-bye, good-bye, good-bye."
--Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds

R. T. said...

For a change of pace, consider the following, which ends Genesis, a rather significant book: "Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt." There is within that single sentence a rather poignant conclusion to all that preceded it, and an important segue to all that will follow it in its "sequels." (The English version offered here is from the JPS translation.)

D. G. Myers said...

Cf. the last line of Jonah: “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?”

Øystein H-O said...

Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop: “As the train drew out of the station she sat with her head bowed in shame, because the town in which she had lived for nearly ten years had not wanted a bookshop.”

D. G. Myers said...

Mark Harris, Bang the Drum Slowly [after the death of Bruce Pearson]: “He was not a bad fellow, no worse than most and probably better than some, and not a bad ballplayer neither when they give him a chance, when they laid off him long enough. From here on in I rag nobody.”

Anonymous said...

The only line I can ever remember from Moby Dick is the final one, and I don't know why it moves me so:

It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan.

I'm at work, so I don't have the text in front of me but I also love the end of Light in August--I can't remember if the final sentence is Lena musing that she has been farther in the last two months than in her entire life, but the last couple of sentences were the perfect ending to the book.

D. G. Myers said...

“ ‘My, my. A body does get around. Here we aint been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it’s already Tennessee.’ ”

hawkmoon said...

"The Shipping News"
Snow Falling On Cedars"

Nige said...

'With heads hung low,we reverted to our daily tasks, richer by one more disappointment.'
Bruno Schulz, The Comet (OK a short story, but quite long one...)

Amateur Reader said...

I haven't read Pym. I went to the library and found things like this snoozer, from A Glass of Blessings:

"I turned into the street where our new flat was, and where I knew Rodney would be waiting for me. We were to have dinner with Sybil and Arnold that evening. It seemed a happy and suitable ending to a good day."

But when I browsed through the book, there were good-to-great sentences everywhere. Same with her other novels that I checked. Pym was clearly ending her books on a flat note on purpose.

Tickletext said...

"Pray for the repose of His soul. He was so tired."
--Fr. Rolfe (Baron Corvo), Hadrian the Seventh