The 10 best closing lines of books

The Guardian columnist Robert McCrum has discussed his 10 best closing lines of books. As I’ve only read a handful of those listed, I cannot really comment or otherwise offer insight, but I get why he enjoys those particular lines; he gives a good explanation in each case.

How important is the final line? Is it as important as an opening line? In my view, the answer to both questions is a resounding “yes”. Whereas with the opening line needs to grab the attention immediately:

Marley was dead to begin with

…and keep sucking you into the first paragraph and deeper into the first chapter, a poor final line can leave a reader feeling a little unsatisfied without proper closure or a sense that it was all wrapped up rather nicely. If there is a sequel, you may be able to get away with leaving it hanging but if it is standalone, you could leave your reader feeling annoyed or confused. Either way, satisfaction that this story has now passed must be key to a good final sentence.

Here then are my personal favourites.

And they walked away together through the hole in the wall, back into the darkness, leaving nothing behind them; not even the doorway.

Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

I adore this ending. So abstract yet in the context of the book it makes perfect sense. Richard Mayhew has seen a life he could never have imagined and despite yearning for the normal world through most of the book, when it is given to him he decides he doesn’t want it: vacuous fiance, mundane and soul-destroying job, cocktail parties and social climbers. It suddenly becomes so unreal and in exasperation he calls the Marquis De Carabas back to allow him back into London Below.

Next up:

‘One of us had to accept the agony,’ she said, ‘and he was always the stronger’

Children of Dune – Frank Herbert

Leto II has become the Emperor of the Universe and is embarking on the Golden Path to becoming a sandworm and living for thousands of years. Yet the final line goes to his sister Ghanima. I always wondered whether we should take this at face value. He may have been stronger but he was no more or less wise than his sister and certainly no braver than she. Yet what was it that made him worthy of the path and not her? Arguably nothing and I’m wondering whether Ghanima is attempting to convince herself of this; does she truly believe this or is she accepting her place as a woman in this world as that shared by her mother Chani and her stepmother Irulan? If we think back to the end of Dune, Jessica gives Chani a speech on the difference between a concubine (Irulan) and a true wife (herself and Chani). I’ve always wondered whether this is a reflection on this as she prepares to marry Prince Faradn.

So Lyra and her daemon turned away from the world they were born in, and looked toward the sun, and walked into the sky

Northern Lights (The Golden Compass) by Philip Pullman

Just… wow. Such a wonderful trilogy; I will never stop gushing over how much I love His Dark Materials and though the first book is not my favourite in the trilogy, it does contain my favourite closing line. Lyra and Pantalaimon have travelled far to the north – to Svalbard – and are stepping into Aurora Borealis. The Northern Lights are a gateway to a new world and we are left in no doubt that we are about to embark on an adventure. Lyra’s world was strange enough so what peculiarities are we about the experience in the next?

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 – George Orwell

So complete was the figurative transformation of the pigs from ‘one of us’ to ‘one of them’ and their mimmickry of human actions and mannerisms, that the remaining animals who had been the oppressed underclasses under both human and pig could no longer tell the difference. Anti-Communist allegory at its richest, finishing on this rather obvious note but its execution is flawless.

A last note from your narrator: I am haunted by humans

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Sobering. The narrator of this novel is Death recounting the tale of one young Liesel Meminger in Nazi Germany. Daughter of Communists sent to Auschwitz, she is orphaned and sent to live in Munich with foster parents. Where humanity is constantly haunted by the fear of Death, so too is Death haunted by the destructive nature of humanity and his eternal role of reaper of souls.

So, there are my favourites. Please feel free to share yours.

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7 thoughts on “The 10 best closing lines of books

  1. Definitely some great last lines there. I’d have to say they all felt succinct and close-ended other than Dune’s. Great compilation and it shows that you’ve dissected a few books in your time, something I’m not sure I can do.

      1. Its actually kind of funny, I don’t really think about how masterfully a book’s end is crafted as long as all the threads come together and the writer finishes on his promises. That’s usually enough for me.

  2. Oh, dear, yes, that last one from the Golden Compass is spine shivering. I loved it, too. I’ll have to scour my favorite books tonight for great last lines. I can’t think of any on the top of my head at the moment.

      1. Last lines of The Road:

        “On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not to be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

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