TEDDY Jamieson, in this space yesterday, gave voice to his enthusiasm for great opening lines in books.
As good as they are, some of us prefer to linger on the final page in search of great closing lines. As Teddy said, last lines are culminations and first lines are about impact, but some last lines stand out for their luminous beauty or cadence, their thrilling, sudden clarity, the way they haunt the imagination.
The closing lines of Graham Greene's The Human Factor will always stay with me. "She said, 'Maurice, Maurice, please go on hoping', but in the long unbroken silence that followed she realised that the line to Moscow was dead." I like Robert McCrum's description of the way in which The Great Gatsby took its leave of us – "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." It is, says McCrum, "resonant, memorable and profound." There's not enough room here for the closing lines of Ulysses, Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights or The Mayor of Casterbridge (though the latter ends with "happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain", which is worth preserving), but there has to be space for Heart of Darkness: "The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."
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EM Forster once said that nearly all novels are feeble at the end, and he knew what he was talking about. For my money, though, novelist Philip Henscher got it right when he said that first lines aren't as important to a novel as the last lines. "From a terrible first line, a novel may recover; the last line is what it leaves a reader with."