The Best Last Lines In Literature

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Every so often, you read a book that is so good you are devastated to finish it. You might stand there clutching it, wishing it wasn’t over and wondering where the characters have gone. Often that’s because of a great last line, something that makes a book last forever in our minds. Here are our favorites.

Nicole Hill: “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.”A. A. Milne, The House on Pooh Corner
I was always the kid who liked happy endings. I am now the adult who likes happy endings. I am also the adult who cries when reading the ending of The House on Pooh Corner. As Christopher Robin gently tries to help Pooh cope with his “going away,” he hits a ubiquitous nerve in anyone who has ever said goodbye to anything, anywhere. When you read that last line with its promise of that eternal enchanted place, you hit a jackpot of bittersweet warm and fuzzies.

Ben Van Iten: “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.” —Joseph Heller, Catch 22.
In the book’s final glorious moments the story’s main character Yossarian finally breaks free from the concept of Catch-22 (the idea that a soldier cannot plead insanity to escape war, because to want to escape war is sane) and finds freedom even if the world will not recognize it. It’s such a great ending because the reader is all but driven mad by the paradoxical conundrum at this point, and Yossarian’s escape is met with a satisfied exhale.

Emma Chastain
One of my favorite last lines in recent memory is from Charlotte Rogan’s The Lifeboata novel narrated by an incredibly unreliable protagonist. The whole time you’re reading, you’re wondering if she’s a naif or an evil genius. You don’t know which characters you can trust, or who’s manipulating whom, but it feels like if you just analyze the text closely enough, you’ll be able to figure it all out. Then you get to the last line: “If I had not felt so sorry for him, I would have laughed out loud at his desire to pin everything down, at his naiveté, at his childish desire to know.” And you feel like a fool, in the best way possible! Just like the doctor the narrator’s criticizing in this line, you, the reader, are a naïve child looking for a truth that doesn’t exist. The Lifeboat isn’t some dumb mystery novel; it’s about the impossibility of ever knowing why people behave the way they do. Ya burned!

Josh Perilo
My favorite last line, from Portnoy’s Complaint: “So [said the doctor]. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?”

Jenny Grudziecki: “No one watching this woman smear her initials in the steam of her water glass with her first finger, or slip cellophane packets of oyster crackers into her handbag for sea gulls, could know how her thoughts are thronged by our absence, or know how she does not watch, does not listen, does not wait, does not hope, and always for me and Sylvie.” —Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

I love it for two reasons. First, because it’s very long and almost lyrical, and that makes me happy. And second, because it sums up the hopeless expectancy of the novel so perfectly that I can’t imagine a better ending.

Lauren Passell: “There is only one page left in my beautiful blue leather manuscript book; but that is as much as I shall need…. Shall I fill it with ‘I love you, I love you’…? No. Even a broken heart doesn’t warrant a waste of good paper…. A mist is rolling over the fields…. He said he would come back…. Only the margin left to write on now. ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’.” —Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle

Oh my goodness, what a perfect way to end this beautiful coming of age story. I read it the first time when I was a teenager—it struck me hard and it still does. It’s young love, and hopefulness, and despair in exactness. It makes me dream far behind where Dodie Smith finished the story. It also is a tribute to the (wonderful) first line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink,” which makes the whole thing cycle back, strengthening the idea that (to steal an idea from the last lines of Peter Pan) all this has happened before and it will all happen again.

Josh Sorokach: “Because from now on, for you, I’ll be searching for those moments of always within never. Beauty, in this world.” —Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a splendidly written novel that chronicles the hidden eruditeness, and subsequent friendship, of a concierge, Renée Michel, and the precocious twelve year old, Paloma Josse, who lives in her building. Feeling as though her own destiny is already plotted out and that “life is a farce,” Paloma decides to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. Before her demise, she plans to write down a number of “profound thoughts,” saying that “even if nothing has any meaning, the mind, at least, can give it a shot.” What follows is a highly insightful, engaging tale you won’t want to put down. While the last line offers a beautiful coda, the novel has a litany of thought provoking quotes. “No one seems to have thought of the fact that if life is absurd, being a brilliant success has no greater value than being a failure. It’s just more comfortable.”

Molly Schoemann-McCann: For an adolescent who was used to reading books with happy endings, the last line of George Orwell’s 1984,“He loved Big Brother,” was a dark, brilliant, eye-opening kick in the teeth. I had been rooting for the book’s protagonist, Winston Smith, to succeed in his struggle against Big Brother, the figurehead of a violent, oppressive totalitarian regime that was watching his every move—and the book’s final line forced me to realize that Winston’s battle was over, and he had lost. I must have been around eleven when I first discovered 1984, and it rocked my young world. It was the kind of book where the minute you finished reading it, you wanted to throw open the window, lean out of it and shout “Have you all read this?! Everyone needs to read this!” In the years since, I have read plenty of other great dystopian works, including Orwell’s Animal Farm, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and of course The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. But 1984 was my first, and it will always be my favorite.

What’s the best last line you’ve read?

  • Charley Mills

    Po-tee-weet?

  • Carol Ashey

    Best last line in a book? Chronicles of Narnia’s The Last Battle: “But it was only the beginning–all their adventures in Narnia were the cover and first chapter of the Greatest Story ever told; where every chapter is better than the one before.” C.S. Lewis.

    • rochelle762

      my girlfriends daddy just got an almost new yellow Dodge Challenger SRT8 Core from only workin part time online… More about the author w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

  • Emily

    I’m with Nicole Hill in that I’m a big, nostalgic, crying sap for those type of lines. It’s probably from moving away from my home and best friends when I was very young, but they always get me right in the heart. That being said my very favorite closing line is from Treasure Island: Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed
    island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf
    booming about its coasts or start upright in bed with the sharp voice of
    Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of
    eight!”

  • Elizabeth Crosman

    “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…” I loved how the last line was the first line of the book AND of Ponyboy’s essay in The Outsiders. Even though I had to read it for English class, I read it again as an adult and still loved it!

  • Tom Fusco

    No contest: “‘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.'”

  • Mickey

    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. Have always loved this line I want it on my grave.

  • Amiable

    My favorites:

    “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”–“The Great Gatsby”

    “Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” — “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”

    “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” –“Animal Farm”

  • Desiree Kerstetter

    “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”

    • Laura Williams

      This. That is all :)