Earlier this week, the Top 5 Tuesday prompt was Top 5 Book Quotes. Narrowing it down was pretty excruciating, so I wanted to make a post with some of the quotes that didn’t quite make the shortlist. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a few more favorites… enjoy! (None of these contain spoilers, which tragically meant I had to omit the final paragraph of Never Let Me Go, which is one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time.)
“All great and precious things are lonely.”
— John Steinbeck, East of Eden
“Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over till it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right.”
— David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
“Those who are not being dragged to their deaths cannot understand how the heart grows hard and sharp, until it is a nest of rocks with only an empty egg in it. I am barren; nothing will grow from me anymore. I am the dead fish drying in the cold air. I am the dead bird on the shore. I am dry, I am not certain I will bleed when they drag me out to meet the axe. No, I am still warm, my blood still howls in my veins like the wind itself, and it shakes the empty nest and asks where all the birds have gone, where have they gone?”
— Hannah Kent, Burial Rites
“A line came into my mind, something that Hannah Arendt once said about the poet Auden: that life had manifested the heart’s invisible furies on his face.”
— John Boyne, The Heart’s Invisible Furies
“There was no signature, but instead a tag from the Iliad, in Greek. It was from the eleventh book, when Odysseus, cut off from his friends, finds himself alone and on enemy territory:
Be strong, saith my heart; I am a soldier;
I have seen worse sights than this.”
— Donna Tartt, The Secret History
NB. Sorry, I’m a classics nerd, so I have to make a note about this. This is NOT a quote from the Iliad – the closest it comes is to a line from the Odyssey, book XX, when Odysseus is contemplating the task ahead of him in challenging Penelope’s suitors, which translates to “Be firm, my heart! For you have endured even worse things than this.” I don’t think anyone knows Donna Tartt’s exact motivation in attributing this line to the wrong book, or why she says Odysseus’s night raid in the Iliad occurred in book 11 when it was actually book 10, but I’m just being pedantic. Wherever they’re from, for whatever reason Tartt choose to write them here, they’re gorgeous words.
“So the immortals spun our lives that we, we wretched men
live on to bear such torments—the gods live free of sorrows.”
— Homer, the Iliad (translated by Robert Fagles)
“I walked on the river, which swirled like smoke under me, and I was moonlight.”
— David Malouf, An Imaginary Life
“When he sacrifices himself man for a moment is greater than God, for how can God, infinite and omnipotent, sacrifice himself?”
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
“All the rest they burn, unnumbered and unsung,
an enormous tangled mass of bloody carnage waits
and the wasteland far and wide lights up with fires,
with pyre on pyre striving to outblaze the last.”
— Vergil, the Aeneid (translated by Robert Fagles)
“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”
— Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
“The feeling that she had never really lived in this world caught her by surprise. It was a fact. She had never lived. Even as a child, as far back as she could remember, she had done nothing but endure. She had believed in her own inherent goodness, her humanity, and lived accordingly, never causing anyone harm. Her devotion to doing things the right way had been unflagging, all her successes had depended on it, and she would have gone on like that indefinitely. She didn’t understand why, but faced with those decaying buildings and straggling grasses, she was nothing but a child who had never lived.”
— Han Kang, The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith)
“What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty.”
— Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
“Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain. We seek pitifully to convey to others the treasures of our heart, but they have not the power to accept them, and so we go lonely, side by side but not together, unable to know our fellows and unknown by them. We are like people living in a country whose language they know so little that, with all manner of beautiful and profound things to say, they are condemned to the banalities of the conversation manual. Their brain is seething with ideas, and they can only tell you that the umbrella of the gardener’s aunt is in the house.”
— W. Somerset Maugham, The Moon and Sixpence
“There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”
— Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
“Il dort. Quoique le sort fut pour lui bien étrange,
Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n’eut plus son ange.
La choise simplement d’elle-même arriva.
Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s’en va.
He is asleep. Though his mettle was sorely tried,
He lived, and when he lost his angel, died.
It happened calmly, on its own.
The way night comes when day is done.”
— Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
“‘I’m lonely,’ he says aloud, and the silence of the apartment absorbs the words like blood soaking into cotton.”
— Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
“I hold onto her and tell her I love her and tell her I’ll do anything she wants me to do but beyond my words and her weight in my arms there’s the knowing we fucked this up. There was something beautiful here once.”
— Lisa McInerney, The Glorious Heresies