How Important is the Last Line of a Book?

I was surprised last week when I came across a post about the last lines of books. I hadn’t really thought of it, and y’all should know by now that I’ve thought of everything about books to write on here. I have ideas on my phone from months ago that I just haven’t decided to post. Anyway, I’d link back to the original post about the final lines of books, but I never remember blog names or post titles if I don’t already follow them. Sorry stranger, but I think you got a Like from me.

Have you ever thought about the last lines of books? I mean, I can’t tell you the last line of any book. Oh wait! Yes I can!

Thinking.

No. I can’t. Harry Bosch spoiler is about to follow this sentence so turn your eyes if you don’t want to know! At the very end of City of Bones Harry Bosch retires. There’s a code for it that he uses in one of the very last lines of the book. But I can’t think of it. That’s about as close as it gets for me. No other last lines even come to mind. Not even from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I just finished earlier today.

I played this game a long time ago when I wrote about the first lines of books, so let’s play it again this time. I’m going to try to guess what the last line of my book is, without cheating. Okay, let’s see.

Guess

“Jerk!” And with that Sydney was back to her old self already.

Actual

“Jerk!”she said as she punched me hard in the chest. Sydney was back to her old self already.

I was pretty close, right? I’d say that it’s okay. I don’t think it’s remarkable, but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing in the history of writing.

You can feel free to critique my last line, but that’s not really the point here. I’d like to know whether or not you believe a book’s last line to be particularly important.

PS: 1984 was voted as my next read by you all. It just narrowly defeated Gone Girl and Catch-22. So that will be my next read and there’ll be a forthcoming post once I finish it.

31 thoughts on “How Important is the Last Line of a Book?

  1. Interesting thought! I can’t think of any last lines either, though it is funny you mention Catch-22 – while I can’t remember the last line, I do remember the final scene in the last few lines of that book. It makes no sense until you’ve read the whole book, but I remember my jaw actually dropping when I read it.

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    • I don’t think that’s ever happened to me when finishing a book. I’ve cried. I’ve been like WHY ARE YOU ENDING NOW!? And I’ve been indifferent. Now Catch-22 is even more intriguing.

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      • It’s a great book. It made me laugh hysterically, it made me cry uncontrollably, it made my jaw drop as I said, and then it got me back into writing stories (when I read it, on the younger side of my twenties, university had killed off my passion for writing temporarily). For me it’s an absolutely favourite, although it does seem to get mixed responses too from people. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on it when you do read it. 🙂

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      • I’ll have to read it soon. And since it’s on the Amazon list there’ll definitely be a post.

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  2. In one instance, the last line was the first line I wrote. Took four years to get the rest down. 🙂

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  3. Maye not last lines, but certainly the end of a book or its last ‘chapter’ can be important. I recently finished reading “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt and have to say that although the last chapter wraps up the story in a neat-ish little bow, it didn’t do much for me. I felt like while the whole book was a fiction tale, the author tried to get preachy (à la Ayn Rand in my mind) and my enthusiasm gave up. The last line alone was 6 lines long; 68 words! And yes, I counted them.

    Perhaps some last lines work (was “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” a last line?), but I think that first lines still make a bigger impression.

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    • Absolutely. I read mostly crime fiction and I always expect the last two or three chapters to really bring home the story. The murderer caught, the detective faced with an impossible decision, or even an ending so horrible for the characters involved that it couldn’t have been expected.

      A blogger I know recently interviewed with a literary agency and the top guy actually asked her what the first line of her book was. So I think you’re right there.

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  4. No that wasn’t a last line but was close to the end. I love Gone with the Wind.

    I don’t think the last lines are particular important, but for sure the last chapter or final paragraphs are.

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  5. I think the last line is very important. Still, I don’t remember the last line of each book I’ve ever read, not even among my favorites. I do remember the last line from the last book I read, though. And the last line from Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

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    • Hm. Would you say your opinion of the book is heavily influenced by the last line? I wouldn’t, unless it blows me away. Which only happened once before.

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      • Not that my overall opinion is heavily influenced by it, no, but some lines just stick with you forever. The last line of Norwegian Wood definitely did that. It really tied everything together and kind of confirmed the way I’d already interpret the story. I think that when an author writes a very good last line, that’s a perfect proof or their greatness as a writer. The ability to tie things together, to leave an echo. Not sure how to explain it any better, sorry!

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      • Hmm. Okay. But I disagree. Cause you have ten of thousands of words before those last few that really make the story and show what an author is made of. I don’t think that last sentence should be any more important than the rest of the work. I think tying things together happens in the last chapter or two, not the last line.

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  6. I agree. I can’t think of the last line in any book I’ve ever read, but I do remember books that didn’t have satisfying endings, Son of Rosemary, for instance, or Hannibal. I hate cop out endings with a deep, burning passion.

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  7. You opened my eyes! The last line of a book is as important as the first line of a book. Without the last line there isn’t an ending. Never thought about it, about the last line and how important it could be for a storyline. From now on, i will read my last lines even better in the future. It’s kind of sad we rush true the last page of a book.. Well like i said, this is a totally eye opener for me!

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  8. I honestly haven’t given the last line too much thought. As long as it seals the deal with what the author promised in the beginning of the book, I’m satisfied. To me, the last chapter, or epilogue, if one is included, is very important, but the actual last line? Nope, not really. Could I tell you mine? Nope. Not just because I can’t remember, but also because I haven’t finished the most recent re-write so it’ll probably be different this time around.

    I honestly don’t even care too much if the first line isn’t all that great. It’s all about pages and chapters for me. If I’m sucked in by the first few pages, I’ll read the rest unless it tanks after a few chapters.

    I think way too much emphasis is put on the first and last lines and not enough emphasis on what’s between them. Great topic, as always.

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    • Yes. I literally just replied to another comment that the entirety of the work is much more important than just the first or last lines. I mean, what really is there left to say with the very last line? Like I said in the post, I only remember one that really stuck with me.

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  9. I don’t know how I feel about last lines, but endings are important. I like satisfying endings. I remember a sentence from the last page of Gone with the Wind, a classic novel by Margaret Mitchell. It made me furious. It made me cry. The line was, “Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a damn.” There may have been a few phrases following, but this line will never be forgotten by anyone that read the book or saw the movie.

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    • That seems to be what others are saying, and I agree. The last chapter or two is important. The last line, eh. Another person mentioned that line. And I’d heard it before now, though I haven’t read the book.

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  10. I think its important to leave a lasting impression on the reader. But it’s more the last page or last few pages that do that rather than the last line. Though I do know the last line of the final Harry Potter book strangely enough…

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  11. I can’t name any specific last lines, but I do take notice of them when they’re in front of me. A last line can give you a feel of completion and peace, or leave you hanging and make you throw a book across the room, grab your keys, and go straight to the store to buy the next one. (No joke. This has totally happened to me in the days before e-books.) Or, as has also happened, a last line can make me swear to never buy a book by the same author again, because the ending was weak and dissatisfying. So, while they don’t have the immediacy of recollection of say Hamlet’s famous monologue, I also think they’re extremely important in achieving a sense of completion and and overall satyisfying reading experience.

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    • Hahaha I don’t read series books back to back, soooo I’ve never experienced what you described. But would you agree that the last chapter or two is more important than the final line?

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      • Some have ended on such cliffhangers it couldn’t be helped. 🙂

        I don’t know that I necessarily agree, but can see how that would be uniquely more pertinent in a crime drama or mystery. It’s not universal. That’s not to downplay that those final chapters are important (and Harry Potter is an excellent example, as at least half of fans of the series like to pretend the epilogue doesn’t exist.), but rather that the last line is the seal. A crappy last line is a bit like mailing a package without sealing it; you’ve sent it out, but who knows if it’s going to reach your recipient in one piece if you don’t wrap it up well. As a poet, I may feel the importance of a solid closer more than average, though.

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  12. I can remember a few, but I don’t know if they have any impact on whether or not I’ll remember or like a book. I think there was once a time when those last liner were magical and important.

    This is not such a time.

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