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?

If I'm browsing, I've been known to read the final line or paragraph of a novel in making a decision. If the ending tells me all that's come before, back on the shelf it goes. If the ending is one that will require me to read the entire book to understand, then it's likely to come home with me.

(Although truth be told, I'm much more likely to select a book because of a browse through the middle of a book than because of how it starts or ends.)

Three of my all-time favorite endings from three of my all-time favorite novels:

Cody held on to his elbow and led him toward the others. Overhead, seagulls drifted through a sky so clear and blue that it brought back all the outings of his boyhood--the drives, the picnics, the autumn hikes, the wildflower walks in the spring. He remembered the archery trip, and it seemed to him now that he even remembered the arrow sailing in its graceful, fluttering path. He remembered his mother's upright form along the grasses, her hair lit gold, her small hands smoothing her bouquet while the arrow journeyed on. And high above, he seemed to recall, there had been a little brown airplane, almost motionless, droning through the sunshine like a bumblebee.

--Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant


This is what I miss, Cordelia: not something that's gone, but something that will never happen. Two old women giggling over their tea.

Now it's full night, clear, moonless and filled with stars, which are not eternal as was once thought, which are not where we think they are.If they were sounds, they would be echoes, of something that happened millions of years ago: a word made of numbers. Echoes of light, shining out of the midst of nothing.

It's old light, and there's not much of it. But it's enough to see by.

--Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye


"It stinks like trains, Mom" she says over the hiss of engines. It's a harsh, queasy, burn smell, with its suggestions of hell and carcinogenesis. I think, This is why a woman makes things up: because when she dies, those lives she never got to are all going down with her. All those possibilities will just sit there like a bunch of schoolkids with their hands raised and uncalled on--each knowing, really knowing, the answer.

Life is sad. Here is someone.

"Knock, knock," whispers Georgianne. She takes two steps to my one. "Knock, knock," she repeats.

"Who's there?"


"Me who?"

"Just me!" she says and giggles wildly.

I shake my head. "You made that up, didn't you."

"Yup." She tugs at her bag. Passing the diesel at the front, we are suddenly hit with a steamy, acrid smoke billowing out from underneath it. People around us cough. George leans her head on my arm, mock-weary, Pre-Raphaelite. She is a gift I have given myself, a lozenge of pretend. Pretend there's a child dozed between us, wrote Darrel once, and the city's parch and chill is not the world, and the world's not hurtful as a fist holding us sternly, always here and down.

George fiddles with my coat cuff. "Sometimes," she sighs into the steam, "I feel like I'm right in the mist of things."

I swear, she is a genius.

--Lorrie Moore, Anagrams


gautami tripathy said...

As I have not read any, I think those are worth a try!

Here is my BTT post

Smilingsal said...

You've listed three impressive endings.

Jeane said...

I never knew anyone to read the end of a book first to test it out.

thekoolaidmom said...

I've never read any of those. They sound interesting. I've been meaning to Cat's Eye on my Wishlist for a while now. I'm gonna have to jet over to BookMooch and do that.

Confuzzled Books said...

I haven't read it but I like the one from Cat's Eye.

Jeanne said...

I have an early blog post about endings ( But I can play this game endlessly! In addition to the ending of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, which is also one of my favorites, here are two more endings I love.

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams:
We stand looking out into the middle of that ocean of alfalfa. I can see my mother there, a small white bundle with nothing left, and I can see that it isn't a tragedy we're watching, really. Just a finished life. The helicopter is already in the air and it stays where it is, a clear round bubble with no destination, sending out circular waves of wind that beat down the alfalfa. People duck down, afraid, as if they're being visited by a plague or a god. Their hair is blowing. Then the helicopter tilts a little and the glass body catches the sun. For an instant it hangs above us, empty and bright, and then it rises like a soul.

Walker Percy, Love In the Ruins

To bed we go for a long winter's nap, twined about each other as the ivy twineth, not under a bush or in a car or on the floor or any such humbug as marked the past peculiar years of Christendom, but at hhome in bed where all good folks belong.

jlshall said...

Interesting. I always try very hard not to look at the end of a book before I read it - if I know the ending, sometimes it's hard to make myself push on through the rest of the book.

Jenny said...

I occasionally look at the ending first, but much more often I look at a paragraph in the middle (hoping it doesn't give some essential part of the game away.) It usually gives me enough of a sense of the style and dialogue that I know whether I want to try it.

I liked the endings you picked. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, has a good ending, and so do most of Jane Austen's novels, and Marilynne Robinson's.

SFP said...

Now, granted, folks, I usually don't look at the ending before reading the book--it's only when I'm selecting books I know NOTHING about. And, since I'm prone to put a newly purchased book on the shelf without reading it for weeks, months, years on down the road, it's not exactly as if I remember the ending by the time I get around to reading it. :)

rachel said...

one of my favorite endings from is Craig Clevenger's The Contortionist's Handbook. It's the only time I've been caught off guard by a book's ending... in a good way. I'd really advise not to read this ending beforehand.

SFP said...

That one looks good, Rachel. I just added it to my wishlist.

Anonymous said...

Probably no one will read this, several years after the post...but I always read the end first. Sometimes I go from the end, to the middle, to the end, and then the beginning. If the book is good, and well-written, it really doesn't matter.

Doris Lessing said somewhere, just read. It doesn't matter if you do back to front, or whatever. I stopped feeling guilty.

That is no doubt how I read Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, and Anagrams. Awesome choices. A couple of my favourite writers.

SFP said...

I read it, Anony, and hope to see you back around sometime with some book suggestions for me. Anyone who's read Tyler and Moore and Lessing is someone with tastes I'll listen to. :)