The End. For book lovers, those words sometimes have a painful ring, don’t they? Plenty of readers have mourned the end of their favorite novels and series novels. My friend Jamie is currently grappling with finishing the final book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, which she has been reading since she was a teenager.
At the same time, though, particularly in non-series books, those last lines can be evocative and incredibly powerful—Hemingway’s ambiguously tense “Yes, I said, ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?’” in The Sun Also Rises, for example. If you’ve always been intrigued by last moments, these readings are for you.
On Your Kindle
The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orleans
Orleans’ non-fiction bestseller, The Orchid Thief, is a compelling trek into the wild parts of Florida with obsessive orchid collector John Laroche. Fittingly, her final line is focused on the swamps where orchids still grow: “After hours or minutes or forever, we splashed through the last black water and onto the dry levee. First we turned to the right but saw only more cypress and palm and saw grass, so we turned to the left, and there, far down the diagonal of the levee, we could see the gleam of a car fender, and we followed it like a beacon all the way to the road.”
On Your Smartphone
"100 Best Last Lines," The American Book Review
This list will remind you of all those famous endings you’ve read and make you want to re-read them—and then read more of the listed novels. For me, two novels particularly stand out: I’d forgotten the way that Margaret Atwood crafted the final line of The Handmaid’s Tale to make her readers feel the inadequacy of our historical record when it comes to documenting human tragedy. Likewise, Kate Chopin’s decision to end The Awakening with one line conveys Edna Pelletier’s helplessness in the face of her environment: “There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.”
On a Podcast
"The Best 100 Closing Lines From Books," Stylist
Like the American Book Review, Stylist’s multimedia list incorporates many classic novels with mournful endings. However, it also highlights recent novels with striking final paragraphs and provides space in the comments for readers to add in their own favorites. In particular, I was struck by the memorably cheerful and reassuring final images in some of my favorite comic novels. When Jane Austen writes at the end of Pride & Prejudice, "With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them," it’s impossible to imagine an unhappy future for Lizzy Bennet.
Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier
Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel is perhaps the best example I can cite of a passive, yet wholly sympathetic narrator—the second Mrs. deWinter’s confusion and discomfort is relatable, rather than puzzling or frustrating for the reader. What makes the final lines of the novel so moving is Du Maurier’s ability to show us the nameless narrator’s evolution from innocence to grief entirely in the first person.