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The 100 Best Last Lines from Novels

by Staff

Tags: American Book Review, best last lines, Samuel Beckett, novels,

The American Book Review has made their list of the 100 best last lines from novels available online (pdf). The judges—a group of critics, reviewers, writers, and readers—picked their favorite closers from a list of some 400 nominees. Only last lines from novels, novellas, and short story collections that “unfold like a novel” were eligible.  

The most popular last lines generally came from widely acclaimed books. In an essay accompanying the list, which first appeared in the Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue of the nonprofit literary journal, James Phalen explains, “because the power and effect of these lines depend so much on what has preceded them, it makes sense that our judgments of those lines are influenced by our judgments of what has preceded them.”

Top honors go to Samuel Beckett in The Unnamable—the final 11 words of a nine-page sentence.

“…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”

Which last line do you think should have won? Post a comment below, or go chat in the Great Writing Salon.

Sarah Pumroy