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Literature's greatest closing paragraphs - best book endings of all time

Brilliant endings that will stay with you.

Literature's greatest closing paragraphs - best book endings of all time
Marc Chacksfield
26 February 2022

Writing the opening lines of a book is easy. Not that we’ve done it or anything. But just think of all the words that exist – you can choose any that you like. Just start bashing them out – words, words, words… And then you can go anywhere you like. Probably.

Writing the closing lines and/or paragraphs, however, now that’s hard. How to tie up your intricate web of intrigue? How to finish on a high?

Let’s leave it to the masters, eh? For your entertainment and intellectual wellbeing, 30 of the best closing lines in literature. Bang. The End.

The best book endings

The best book endings

1. Animal Farm (George Orwell)

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The creatures outside looked from pig to man; and from man to pig; and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.

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The best book endings

2. A Tale Of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

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It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest than I go to than I have ever known.

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The best book endings

3. The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald )

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So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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The best book endings

4. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

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But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

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The best book endings

5. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

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Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

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The best book endings

6. Picture Of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

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When they entered, they found hanging upon the wall a splendid portrait of their master as they had last seen him, in all the wonder of his exquisite youth and beauty. Lying on the floor was a dead man, in evening dress, with a knife in his heart. He was withered, wrinkled, and loathsome of visage. It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was.

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The best book endings

7. Catcher In The Rye (JD Salinger)

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Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.

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The best book endings

8. The Stranger (Albert Camus)

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And I too felt ready to live my life again. As if this great outburst of anger had purged all my ills, killed all my hopes, I looked up at the mass of signs and stars in the night sky and laid myself open for the first time to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realised that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy. For the final consummation and for me to feel less lonely, my last wish was that there should be a crowd of spectators at my execution and that they should greet me with cries of hatred.

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The best book endings

9. Crime And Punishment (Dostoevsky)

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But that is the beginning of a new story - the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.

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The best book endings

10. Heart Of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)

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The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky – seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

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The best book endings

11. The Trial (Franz Kafka)

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But the hands of one of the gentleman were laid on K.’s throat, while the other pushed the knife deep into his heart and twisted it there, twice. As his eyesight failed, K. saw the two gentlemen cheek by cheek, close in front of his face, watching the result. “Like a dog!” he said, it was as if the shame of it should outlive him.

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12. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)

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I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.

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The best book endings

13. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

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Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.

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The best book endings

14. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)

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I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own fright and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.

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The best book endings

15. Post Office (Charles Bukowski)

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In the morning it was morning and I was still alive. Maybe I'll write a novel, I thought. And then I did.

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The best book endings

16. The Dead (James Joyce)

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A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

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The best book endings

17. On The Road (Jack Kerouac)

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So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars'll be out, and don't you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what's going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

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18. Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)

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He had done what he had wanted to do. He could now never go back to Leith, to Edinburgh, even to Scotland, ever again. There, he could not be anything other than he was. Now, free from them all, for good, he could be what he wanted to be. He’d stand or fall alone. This thought both terrified and excited him as he contemplated life in Amsterdam.

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The best book endings

19. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath)

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The eyes and faces all turned themselves towards me, and guiding myself by them, as by a magical thread, I stepped into the room

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The best book endings

20. Killing Floor (Lee Child)

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I had tears in my eyes for more than a hundred miles. Then the old bus rattled over the state line. I looked out at the southeast corner of Alabama. Opened Roscoe's envelope. It was the photograph of Joe. She'd taken it from Molly Beth's valise. Taken it out of the frame. Trimmed it with scissors to fit my pocket. On the back she had written her telephone number. But I didn't need that. I had already committed it to memory.

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The best book endings

21. Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling)

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The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.

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The best book endings

22. Emma (Jane Austen)

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But, in spite of these deficiencies, the wishes, the hopes, the confidence, the predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

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23. The Big Sleep (Raymond Chandler)

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What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or on a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn’t have to be. He could lie quiet on his canopied bed with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet waiting. His heart was a brief uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in little while, he too, like Rusty Regan would be sleeping the big sleep. On the way downtown I stopped at a bar and had a couple of double Scotches. They didn’t do me any good. All they did was make me think of Silver-Wig and I never saw her again.

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24. American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis)

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Someone has already taken out a Minolta cellular phone and called for a car, and then, when I'm not really listening, watching instead someone who looks remarkably like Marcus Halberstam paying a check, someone asks, simply, not in relation to anything, "Why?" and though I'm very proud that I have cold blood and that I can keep my nerve and do what I'm supposed to do, I catch something, then realize it: Why? and automatically answering, out of the blue, for no reason, just opening my mouth, words coming out, summarizing for the idiots: "Welll, though I know I should have done that instead of not doing it, I'm twenty-seven for Christ sakes and this is, uh, how life presents itself in a bar or in a club in New York, maybe anywhere, at the end of the century and how people, you know, me, behave, and this is what being Patrick means to me, I guess, so well, yup, uh..." and this is followed by a sigh, then a slight shrug and another sigh, and above one of the doors covered by red velvet drapes in Harry's is a sign and on the sign in letters that match the drapes' color are the words THIS IS NOT AN EXIT.

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25. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

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Slowly, very slowly, like two unhurried compass needles, the feet turned towards the right; north, north-east, east, south-east, south, south-south-west; then paused, and, after a few seconds, turned as unhurriedly back towards the left. South-south-west, south, south-east, east

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26. Norwegian Wood (Haruki Murakami)

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Gripping the receiver, I raised my head and turned to see what lay beyond the telephone booth. Where was I now? I had no idea. No idea at all. Where was this place? All that flashed into my eyes were the countless shapes of people walking by to nowhere. Again and again, I called out for Midori from the dead center of this place that was no place

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27. To The Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf)

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Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.

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28. The Unnamable (Samuel Beckett)

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Perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.

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The best book endings

29. Any Human Heart (William Boyd)

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Life in the old dog. Life – still living, pleased to have managed to live in every decade of this long benighted century. What a time I’ve had – quel parcours, as the French say. I think a drink is called for. Yes, absolutely – I will open a chill bottle of white wine and take it out and sit under the big chestnut and drink a toast to Logan Mountstuart. Every decade. All my ups and downs. My personal rollercoaster. Not so much a rollercoaster - a rollercoaster's too smooth - a yo-yo rather - a jerking, spinning toy in the hands of a maladroit child, more like, trying too hard, too impatiently eager to learn how to operate his new yo-yo.

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30. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov)

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The following decision I make with all the legal impact and support of a signed testament: I wish this memoir to be published only when Lolita is no longer alive.

Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a demented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H.H., and one wanted H.H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. 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.

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Now for the best opening lines in books.

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