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From the beginning to the end
April 22, 2011 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Novel First Sentences, Novel Last Sentences
posted by fearfulsymmetry (54 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Timely! The Lyttle Lytton Contest just posted this year's winners.
posted by Iridic at 9:34 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I have been here before,” I said; I had been there before; first with Sebastian more than twenty years ago on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were white with fool’s-parsley and meadowsweet and the air heavy with all the scents of summer; it was a day of peculiar splendour, such as our climate affords once or twice a year, when leaf and flower and bird and sun-lit stone and shadow seem all to proclaim the glory of God; and though I had been there so often, in so many moods, it was to that first visit that my heart returned on this, my latest.
posted by orthogonality at 9:36 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"I have come to to wound the autumnal city."
posted by empath at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't do Finnegan's Wake or you'll never be able to stop.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:49 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

I can understand posting remarkable opening or concluding sentences from unremarkable books, or unremarkable sentences from remarkable books but some of these are unremarkable sentences from unremarkable books.

That's how my second novel begins. I've yet to find a publisher.
posted by tigrefacile at 9:54 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by fearfulsymmetry

posted by dywypi at 9:56 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

It was the best of times, it was the end of times.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:00 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Favorite recent last line: "I won the chess game, and I began writing these pages."

And "a screaming comes across the sky" gets quoted so much, but I prefer the first line of Mason & Dixon:

"Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins, carried Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware,-- the Sleds are brought in and their Runners carefully dried and greased, shoes deposited in the back Hall, a stocking'd foot Descent made upon the great Kitchen, in a purposeful Dither since Morning, punctuated by the ringing Lids of various Boilers and Stewing-Pots, fragrant with Pie-Spices, peel'd Fruits, Suet, heated Sugar,-- the Children, having all upon the Fly, among rhythmic slaps of Batter and Spoon, coax'd and stolen what they might, proceed, as upon each afternoon all this snowy Advent, to a comfortable Room at the rear of the House, years since given over to their carefree Assaults."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I came here to post my favorite last line, the beautifully wrought ending to For Whom The Bell Tolls:
He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.
In the course of looking that up, though, I discovered something I'd never noticed before, that this is a conscious echo of the very first line of the novel:
He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.
Guess I should have paid more attention in tenth grade English...
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Speaking of tenth grade English, my personal favorite:
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."


So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
posted by dersins at 10:21 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

"For some minutes, before she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep, she just lay quiet, smiling at the ceiling."


"The cults of the famous and the dead."




"P.S. Sorry I forgot to give you the mayonnaise."
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

My favorite opening line is from this book: Testament.

Paraphrase: "Shortly after learning he was married Gray Bridger realized he might need to kill his wife."
posted by cjorgensen at 10:22 AM on April 22, 2011

"It was the day my grandmother exploded."
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:23 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone."

"The primroses were over."
posted by The otter lady at 10:29 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best first line I've ever read in my life is from Ryu Murakami's "Coin Locker Babies," as follows:

"The woman pushed on the baby's stomach and sucked its penis into her mouth; it was thinner than the American menthols she smoked and a bit slimy, like raw fish."

Outside of Jane Austen, I've never read a first line that so perfectly stakes out the world of the novel.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 10:32 AM on April 22, 2011

And of course:

"And when he came back to, he was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand, and it was raining out of a low sky, and the tide was way out."

Speaking of which, the American Book Review has a pretty good list of last lines.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:33 AM on April 22, 2011

Also, obligatory Donald Antrim first sentence:

My brothers Rob, Bob, Tom, Paul, Ralph, Phil, Noah, William, Nick, Dennis, Christopher, Frank, Simon, Saul, Jim, Henry, Seamus, Richard, Jeremy, Walter, Jonathan, James, Arthur, Rex, Bertram, Vaughan, Daniel, Russel, and Angus; and the triplets Herbert, Patrick, and Jeffrey; identical twins Michael and Abraham, Lawrence and Peter, Winston and Charles, Scott and Samuel; and Eric, Donovan, Roger, Lester, Larry, Clinton, Drake, Gregory, Leon, Kevin, and Jack — all born on the same day, the twenty-third of May, though at different hours in separate years — and the caustic graphomaniac, Sergio, whose scathing opinions appear with regularity in the front-of-book pages of the more conservative monthlies, not to mention on the liquid crystal scenes that glow at night atop the radiant work stations of countless bleary-eyed computer bulletin-board subscribers (among whom our brother is known, affectionately, electronically, as Surge); and Albert, who is blind; and Siegfried, the sculptor in burning steel; and clinically depressed Anton; schizophrenic Irv, recovering addict Clayton; and Maxwell, the tropical botanist, who, since returning from the rain forest, has seemed a little screwed up somehow; and Jason, Joshua, and Jeremiah, each vaguely gloomy in his own "lost boy" way; and Eli, who spends his solitary wakeful evenings in the tower, filling notebooks with drawings — the artist's multiple renderings for a larger work? — portraying the faces of his brothers, including Chuck, the prosecutor; Porter, the diarist; Andrew, the civil rights activist; Pierce the designer of radically unbuildable buildings; Barry, the good doctor of medicine; Fielding, the documentary-film maker; Spencer, the spook with known ties to the State Department; Foster, the "new millennium" psychotherapist; and George, the urban planner who, if you read the papers, you'll recall, distinguished himself, not so long ago, with that innovative program for revitalizing the decaying downtown area (as "an animate interactive diorama illustrating contemporary cultural and economic folkways"), only to shock and amaze everyone, absolutely everyone, by vanishing with a girl named Jane and an overnight bag packed with municipal funds in unmarked hundreds; and all the young fathers: Seth, Rod, Vidal, Bennet, Dutch, Brice, Allan, Clay, Vincent, Gustavus, and Joe; and Hiram, the eldest; Zachary, the Giant; Jacob, the polymath; Virgil, the compulsive whisperer; Milton, the channeler of spirits who speak across time; and the really bad womanizers: Stephen, Denzil, Forrest, Topper, Temple, Lewis, Mongo, Spooner, and Fish; and, of course, our celebrated "perfect" brother, Benedict, recipient of a medal of honor from the Academy of Sciences for work over twenty years in chemical transmission of "sexual language" in eleven types of social insects — all of us (except George, about whom there have been many rumors, rumors upon rumors: he's fled the vicinity, he's right here under our noses, he's using an alias or maybe several, he has a new face, that sort of thing) all my ninety-eight, not counting George, brothers and I recently came together in the red library and resolved that the time had arrived, finally, to stop being blue, put the past behind us, share a light supper, and locate, if we could bear to, the missing urn full of the old fucker's ashes.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2011

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

First Line Generator:
posted by Hairy Lobster at 10:44 AM on April 22, 2011

This just reminded me that Name Your Tale sits forever silent.
posted by cashman at 10:49 AM on April 22, 2011

riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

A way a lone a last a loved a long the
posted by rouftop at 11:03 AM on April 22, 2011

dammit Horace Rumpole
posted by rouftop at 11:03 AM on April 22, 2011

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

posted by invitapriore at 11:11 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

posted by Ian A.T. at 11:14 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

The beginning and ending of American Psycho really say it all:

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."
"This is not an exit."
posted by mammary16 at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2011

Yeah, that line makes me suspect that any aspiring writer over the age of 25 is going to have to be very careful to avoid references to TV static in their output. I know I still think of it as the default no-signal image.
posted by invitapriore at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2011

I think the single most evocative and intriguing opening sentence I've ever read is from Flannery O'Connor's "The Violent Bear It Away"

"Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Savior at the head of its grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. Buford had come along about noon and when he left at sundown, the boy, Tarwater, had never returned from the still."

How could you read that and simply put down the book and walk away from it.
posted by hwestiii at 11:56 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oops, I guess that's two sentences. Still, no. 1 takes the cake, for me.
posted by hwestiii at 11:57 AM on April 22, 2011

"In five years, sex will be obsolete."
posted by localroger at 11:59 AM on April 22, 2011

"In five years, sex the penis will be obsolete."

Next time I'll look it up before typing it from memory. Damn it sucks getting old.
posted by localroger at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2011

"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."
posted by nasreddin at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

"It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times."

Stupid monkey.
posted by The Bellman at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2011

My favorite closing few sentences, from One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich:

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail. Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days. The three extra days were for leap years.
posted by chalkbored at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2011

Nineteen Eighty-Four:

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

I first read Nineteen Eighty-Four as an American high school student with no experience with a 24-hour clock, so "the clocks were striking thirteen" immediately struck a disturbing tone.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:48 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Last sentence, Kathy Acker's Don Quixote:
I closed my eyes, head drooping, like a person drunk for so long she no longer knows she's drunk, and then, drunk, awoke to the world which lay before me.
I miss Kathy Acker. She had so much good work left in her.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea."
posted by Navelgazer at 1:17 PM on April 22, 2011

"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."

That's the one Burgess book I haven't been able to finish ... oops, no, I finished that one. It's Kingdom of the Wicked where I'm stuck on page 200.x.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:36 PM on April 22, 2011

"'Attention,' a voice began to call, and it was as though an oboe had suddenly become articulate."


"'Karuna. Karuna.' And a semitone lower, 'Attention.'"
posted by mrgrimm at 1:52 PM on April 22, 2011

Dystopian novels have the best lines, it seems, rather as the devil has the best tunes.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:59 PM on April 22, 2011

It was a pleasure to burn. When we reach the city.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:26 PM on April 22, 2011

Mother died today.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:41 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The music-room in the Governor's House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli's C major quartet."
posted by stargell at 3:10 PM on April 22, 2011

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."


I absolutely cannot remember where, but I believe it was Neil Gaiman who actually did use "the color of a television tuned to a dead channel" to describe a blue sky. I snickered when I read it. For some reason I'm thinking Neverwhere, but do not trust me on this.
posted by Because at 4:03 PM on April 22, 2011

"He never saw Molly again."
posted by TheKM at 4:37 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The sweet smell of a triple-creme torta hung in the air like a good idea."
posted by yoga at 5:09 PM on April 22, 2011

And at last he died the death--the difficult death.
posted by Chrischris at 7:55 PM on April 22, 2011

First sentence, Only Revolutions:

"Mama mia, that's a-one spicy meat-a-ball!"
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 8:18 PM on April 22, 2011

(Chrischris: Here's a free, mostly legal HTML version of the book.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2011

My favourite opening line ever:

You died at seventeen minutes to ten this morning.
posted by badmoonrising at 2:58 AM on April 23, 2011

Opening: "This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it."

Closing: "'Yes, dammit, I said "was". The bitch is dead now.'"
posted by crossoverman at 7:59 AM on April 23, 2011

posted by Spatch at 11:36 AM on April 23, 2011

I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so, the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.
posted by Ruby Stevens at 12:16 PM on April 23, 2011

Filipinos come quick; colored men are built abnormally large ("Their wangs look like a baby's arm with an apple in its fist"); ladies with short hair are Lesbians; if you want to keep your man, rub alum on your pussy."

Lenny Bruce
posted by bluffy at 4:08 PM on April 23, 2011

"The music-room in the Governor's House at Port Mahon, a tall, handsome, pillared octagon, was filled with the triumphant first movement of Locatelli's C major quartet."

and to finish the thought:

After a last salute Jack glanced aloft—still the sweet west wind—and then he looked fore and aft: a fine clear deck, hands all at their stations and all beaming with pleasure; and turning to the master he said, 'Mr. Hanson, pray lay me a course for Cape Pilar and Magellan's Strait.'
posted by stargell at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2011

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