Thursday, June 17, 2010

One (or two) liners

Somebody on AbsoluteWrite started a thread on "The 100 Best Last Lines of Novels" yesterday. I was thrilled to find there the last two lines of Lolita, my favorite book (yes, I have a single favorite...with many, many second-favorites that come very close to matching the magic of Lo).
I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.
It got me to thinking with some surprise how much that image and those words have influenced my current WIP (Baptism for the Dead, that is, since I'm in the very new position right now of kind of having two WIPs going at once -- something I "never" do, except for when I do, apparently). The idea of two people forming a connection and creating a permanent relationship via art, even though the actual relationship itself will probably come to an end, is one of the more important themes in Baptism. I wonder, reading the last lines of Lolita, whether this idea was seeded in my mind by the brilliant closing of Nabokov's brilliant book, or whether I am merely noticing an interesting coincidence. I have read Lolita probably a dozen times throughout my life; I can recite the entire first chapter (it's a short one) from memory. Who knows.

Anyway, opening lines are often lauded, and with good reason, although I've never been one to flip right to the first page of a book to decide whether to buy it. I sample from the middle when test-driving books, and often read the last few paragraphs, too. Spoilers don't spoil it for me.

But closing lines are seldom discussed.

So I'm curious. What powerful opening and/or closing lines have made a big impression on you?

(Edited to add: I have officially reached my pinnacle on the internets. I cannot possibly top this.)


  1. I can't quite recall a particular line, but despite my dislike for the book as a whole, I appreciated the opening few lines of The Road

    re: reading last lines of books -- my wife does that as well... if she doesn't like the opening, she might still read the book, but if the last paragraph or two fall flat for her, she'll pass.

  2. The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. (Sorry, I'm a Brit - we spell it with two L's). :D

    "He is coming, and I am here."

  3. The opening lines of Lolita are great too, but yes, the closing line was brilliant. Here's some of my favourite opening and closing lines:

    "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the Archbishop had come to see me."
    Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

    "East? They wouldn’t know the bloody East if they saw it. Not if you was to hand it to them on a plate would they know it was the East. That’s where the East is, there.' He waved his hand wildly into the black night. 'Out there, west. You wasn’t there, so you wouldn’t know. Now I was. Palestine Police from the end of the war till we packed up. That was the East. You was in India, and that’s not the East any more than this is. So you know nothing about it either. So you needn’t be talking."
    Time for a Tiger, Anthony Burgess

    "Call me Ishmael."
    Moby Dick (of course), Herman Melville

    "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
    "He loved Big Brother."
    1984, George Orwell

    "My mother died today."
    The Outsider, Albert Camus