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Analyses Of Last Lines #1

I’d thought about it for a while: what to do about last lines? Having started to look at first lines, as I currently do on occasion, the idea of looking also at last lines occurred to me but I didn’t know where to start. Should I go back to my first line beginnings and study the last lines of those same books? That would constitute quite an undertaking, be a very long post, and whilst I’d enjoy it, would my readers like it? Should I just start as I did the first lines, taking books that were currently in my ‘sphere’ and work from there? Or should I – this idea just in and I’m mulling it over – look at first and last lines of books concurrently?

The one thing about that last, latest, idea – it could get confusing. I was edging towards number two – starting at relative random.

But Covid’s come along and whilst I was struggling, the nice weather has arrived and it’s helped. The on-again-off-again break has done me good: I’m raring to go. And my head really likes the idea of going back to all those books, trawling through them, and comparing. So I’m going to look back at the books whose first lines I’ve covered, just not all at once.

It won’t be every book – some books were borrowed from the library and I don’t have access to them, and there are a few wherein the lines are either not stellar or (more often) too woven into the story’s context to make sense away from it. That is of course one big difference between first and last lines.

Anne Melville’s The Daughter Of Hardie (1988)

As the sun rose higher in the sky, there was nothing to suggest that 23 July 1932 was to be anything other than the most ordinary of days.

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This is obviously setting up for a sequel, and it gives you an idea as to where the story might go (and, without concept, perhaps where the story has been, too). There’s a potential foreboding – or is it the complete opposite? Either way, whether read out of context or in it, it’s a good line; interestingly it’s more of a first line; it certainly works well as one.

Ben Fergusson’s The Spring Of Kasper Meier (2014)

And the ship groaned gently, rising and falling, rolling softly in the icy black water.

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Minor interlude: this line reminded me of Fitzgerald’s “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” A comparison between Fergusson’s book and The Great Gatsby would, I feel, be of little merit; the one thing that can be said in our context is that Fitzgerald has his – or, rather, Nick’s – eyes on what has been, whereas Fergusson is potentially looking at the future. (The darkness and ‘groaning’ of Fergusson’s book is in the context of the story set in German WWII.)

Fergusson’s final line here offers both an ending and a continuation, ‘rising and falling’, and it must be said that the book is the first in a series. It offers something perhaps sinister, chilling, perhaps a bit more hopeful – a groaning ship, particularly one doing it ‘gently’ is not necessarily a bad thing. As a last line it is as gentle as the ship, it flows smoothly, and it leaves you with a potentially eerie image in mind, not being quite a completion.

Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Heir Of Redclyffe (1853)

Still there was one who never could understand why others should think him stern and severe, and why even his own children should look up to him with love that partook of distant awe and respect, one to whom he never was otherwise than indulgent, nay, almost reverential, in the gentleness of his kindness, and that was Mary Verena Morville.

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This line perhaps shows a lack of change of the person whose society confuses Mary. Or perhaps – likely, given the book’s title, this speaks of a romantic couple; a grouchy male heir who no one else understands?

In a vacuum, it’s easy to wonder at the true character of the man. Do his children love him? It seems this may be what Yonge is saying, and in this way the line, in a vacuum, can invite us to look closer.

Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen (2015)

I opened my eyes, cleared my throat, and started all over again.

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Obioma takes us back to the beginning, be it the beginning of the book itself or a smaller story that’s being told within it. Does the way it goes back to the beginning suggest a thoughtful story?

Is the current situation difficult, those closed eyes, now open? It sounds an important situation that the character is in.

Conclusion

There is a second reason for going back – as I looked at the last lines, I inevitably compared the ‘success’, in its many literary definitions, of each book’s first and last lines and found a lot of merit in the comparison. Last lines are often more interesting than the first; whilst in many books both are good, those books where the start isn’t as strong do often have strong last lines, which is pretty fascinating. The opening of the book is where you first draw the reader in, so in a way it’s surprising. (The ending is sometimes read by potential readers – I do this sometimes – but in the strictest of senses, it shouldn’t be.) But of course by the last line you have far more reader knowledge to draw from to inform it, and tidying ends up is very important. Last lines are also more likely to be clever compared to first lines; for just one example, consider ending lines that in someway cycle back to the beginning of the book.

To me, the whole concept warranted doing what I’m going to do. I may not always compare, but the mere fact of it made me want to give the previously-used books a second innings. However, and this is a big however, this is still somewhat of an experiment as I work through the general ‘usability’ of last lines.

Does this concept work or should I stick to first lines?

 
 

Felicity Grace Terry

April 24, 2020, 4:43 pm

HMM! A concept that i’m sure I COULD get used to. Whether or not I’d WANT to is a whole other matter though.

An interesting idea and something I’d doubtlessly enjoy from time to time, I do however think I prefer the First Lines better.

Kelly

April 24, 2020, 5:08 pm

Like Felicity, I’m far more drawn to first lines. They can make or break whether I want to read a book (one of the pleasures of real-life browsing in a book store… it’s just not the same with the “look inside” feature at Amazon)

I honestly don’t give much serious thought to a final line unless it’s totally bizarre and ruins everything I’ve read to that point.

(and I’d never look at the final lines before finishing a book!)

Charlie

April 25, 2020, 1:56 pm

Thank you both for your comments, they’re very helpful and I’m increasingly leaning towards the various points made. During the planning I thought it had a lot of promise both in practice and as a concept but once I got to that third last line I wasn’t so sure. I’m wondering if perhaps it can be tailored further/to something a bit different, and I’ll think on that for a bit, but definitely for now I won’t carry it further as is.

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