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  #1  
Old 08-20-2005, 06:02 PM
davenportavenger is offline
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First-person novels/stories where the narrator dies (spoilers)


Usually, a first-person narrator doesn't die at the end of a book or story. I know a few people who only read first-person books for precisely this reason, because they don't want to be depressed at the end. But this isn't always true! What novels or stories can you think of that have a first-person character who dies or is moments away from death at the end?

I can think of a few, but I don't want them to show up in spoiler boxes in the mouseover.
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Old 08-20-2005, 06:43 PM
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James M. Cain's Double Indemnity is a classic example.
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Old 08-20-2005, 06:45 PM
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The one that comes to mind is one I can not recall the name of. In it, a friend of the family tells the children about the time he went hunting tigers. He recounts just how things went wrong and how he was trapped by the tiger.

"And then what happens?", asks the oldest
SPOILER:
"Why, the tiger killed me, my dear, and my ghost is telling you this story, dear boy."
What was that story called? The Tiger, by A. E. Coppard? I am not sure.

Also, more along the lines you are asking about, Joe Zabel (Penultimate comic-book mystery writer) mentioned Aupres De Ma Blond, by Nicholas Freeling.

I can't describe it any better than Zabel did, so let it suffice that it is what the OP describes. However, that does not end the novel.
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Old 08-20-2005, 06:59 PM
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The first one that springs to my mind is:

SPOILER:
The Murder of Roger Aykroyd, by Agatha Christie, where the narrator, Dr Shephard, turns out in the end to be the murderer. He isn't actually dead at the end of the novel, although he's just about to go off and commit suicide.
  #5  
Old 08-20-2005, 07:03 PM
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Shaking Hands with Lefkowitz, by Melvin Foster, is a murder mystery that is narrated by the victim.
  #6  
Old 08-20-2005, 07:07 PM
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"Statesman," by Piers Anthony.

Like all the bio of a space tyrant series, it is written in the form of a somewhat dramatized journal or memoir of Hope Hubris. However, at the end of the final memoir...

SPOILER:
Hope charges off to confront the leader of some rugged region in south saturn (allegorically Tibet,) is stonewalled, and freezes to death, along with his tyrant and pet secretary. The memoir continues on to describe several of the events that followed on from his death... the uprising by the people against the Panchen leader, Hope's daughter's intercession to stop the post-uprising purge killing, and a brief mention of the funeral.

An epilog describes, amongst other things, the daughter, Hopie's surprise on editing the memoir manuscripts for publication and discovering how they extended beyond his death, even relating something she had said word for word. She examines the manuscript more closely and makes an odd discovery... up to about the point where it would have been expected that he'd have time to make quick additions to the manuscript, they are in her father's handwriting. Past that point... the handwriting is Hopie's own.

Her father had many times spoken of, and described, having incredibly realistic visions of dead people. The conclusion is that somehow his spirit came back and posessed Hopie in her sleep, or some such, in order to finish the story in his own words.



*shrugs.* Not the worst ending I've ever read.
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Old 08-20-2005, 07:12 PM
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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley.

Batman dies --- but manages to come back after his own funeral. He prepared for it.

DKR is weird because the perspective shifts constantly and every major character and important supporting character speaks and thinks in the first person narrative.
  #8  
Old 08-20-2005, 07:22 PM
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Paul Quarrington's King Leary, which I heartily recommend to all and sundry.

It's about a singularly self-centered Golden Age hockey player in his Golden Years, literally haunted by his past, who travels to Toronto to film a TV commercial for Canada Dry.

Don't be put off if you're not a sports person -- hockey does nothing for me, but this is one of my favourite books.
SPOILER:
Increasingly, throughout the narration, Leary's dead friends appear to him in commonplace situations, cynically pointing out his hypocracies and short-comings. It's implied that these apparitions are manifestations of senile dementia. They act as his conscience and inspire him to make a (somewhat insane) symbolic act of contrition, during the commision of which he seriously injures himself on broken glass. With his last words, he saves a relative stranger in the same way that he completely neglected to save his best friend, decades ago. After that:
------------------------------------------------------
But I got places to go.

I run down a little flight of six stairs and punch through a door marked "Emergency Exit." This sets off a fire alarm, and the building starts making a noise like a slot machine paying off big. The sunlight blinds me. The earth is melting, the snow going so quickly that it almost leaves behind steam. Up ahead, their arms around each other, their feet fairly skipping, are Clays Bors Clinton and Manfred A. Ozikean. "Boys . . ." comes out of my throat, but it is a quiet sound and does not carry on the warm wind. Manny and Clay don't slow for me. I try to dig in, but that only makes my ancient pins buckle. The snow feels good on my face. I am very tired.

When I wake, night has fallen. The sky holds a moon, a big silver moon. Everything is washed in its light. I hear my name, and slowly I climb to my feet. Over there the monks are out on the ice. Brother Simon the Ugly flies through the air, Andrew the Fireplug steams around the boards. Brother Theodore stands in the center of the ice, his eyes closed, preparing to fire the puck. And Brother Isaiah the Blind is waving to me.

I join them in the circle.

Incidentally, this book is a bit remarkable because it obliquely referred to the Maple Leaf Gardens sex scandal, before it was a scandal. Oh, and it features metaphysical invaders from the Dogstar Sirius, which is always a plus in a hockey novel.
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Old 08-20-2005, 07:23 PM
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I haven't read it yet but I'm told that The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is narrated by a girl who's been murdered.
  #10  
Old 08-20-2005, 07:23 PM
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Murther & Walking Spirits by Robertson Davies starts out with the narrator getting shot and killed.

I guess that's not the same thing though, since it's sort of his ghost telling the story after that.
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Old 08-20-2005, 07:41 PM
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Billy Wilder's SUNSET BOULEVARD is a textbook example.
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Old 08-20-2005, 07:49 PM
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The first thing that popped into my head (and I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned already) is All Quiet on the Western Front. Am I the only one who had to read this in tenth grade?
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Old 08-20-2005, 08:25 PM
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American Beauty opens up with the main character telling us he's died, then takes us through everything that led up to it.
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Old 08-20-2005, 09:22 PM
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Stephen King's short story "Survivor Type" is the journal of a guy who is marooned on a desert island. It's really gross.
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Old 08-20-2005, 09:40 PM
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Claudius the God, which is mostly Claudius's autobiography, shifts at the end to the accounts of several historians to dexribe the death of Claudius and its aftereffects, including a (rather unkind) satire of Claudius' ascension to Olympus.

The BBC miniseries (called "I, Claudius" after the previous book) combines an account by Claudius's servants and a deathbed vision to deliver this information.
  #16  
Old 08-20-2005, 09:44 PM
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I don't remember the name of the story, but the setting is a carnival with rides that have been set up to kill some of the riders (to thin out the population? I can't remember). The narrator is very lucky, and keeps escaping death ride after ride. He starts to think that he won't die, but at the end of the story his luck runs out.
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Old 08-20-2005, 10:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Bean
Stephen King's short story "Survivor Type" is the journal of a guy who is marooned on a desert island. It's really gross.

I was actually going to mention this one , it is one of my favorite King works !
  #18  
Old 08-20-2005, 10:27 PM
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A classic that I doubt needs a spoiler box, but here's one anyway:

SPOILER:

John Gardner's Grendel.


It also contains one of my favorite closing lines:
SPOILER:

"Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all."
  #19  
Old 08-21-2005, 04:40 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott Plaid
The one that comes to mind is one I can not recall the name of. In it, a friend of the family tells the children about the time he went hunting tigers. He recounts just how things went wrong and how he was trapped by the tiger.

"And then what happens?", asks the oldest
SPOILER:
"Why, the tiger killed me, my dear, and my ghost is telling you this story, dear boy."
What was that story called? The Tiger, by A. E. Coppard? I am not sure.
I’ve read that too, many years ago. I think it may be one of Lord Dunsany’s “Jorkens” stories.
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Old 08-21-2005, 04:42 AM
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Inferno, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, begins with the death of the narrator in the first chapter... so he can go on and narrate his own journey through Hell.
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Old 08-21-2005, 05:24 AM
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A lot of these books seem to be cop-outs of one sort or another. It seems, somehow, to be cheating to have a dead character continue relating a story. There are exceptions, such as Niven & Pournelle's Inferno, where the character starts out dead - so there's no real gotcha for the reader to deal with. That doesn't really bother me, but having the narrator's ghost come back to finish the story just seems cheap, to me. YMMV, of course.

The book that I'd thought of, first, had been the fourth book of Jack L. Chalker's Lords of the Diamond series.
SPOILER:
In that series each book is a first person narrative of an agent sent to examine the problems that the four planets were having. In the fourth book, the agent sent to the fourth planet dies - and there ended his narrative. The rest of the book deals with the person who recieved all the reports determining the proper action to deal with the crisis.
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Old 08-21-2005, 06:01 AM
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Valis by Philip K Dick

SPOILER:
The narrator dies halfway through


Before the Fact by Anthony Berkley (filmed by Hitchcock as Suspicion)
  #23  
Old 08-21-2005, 06:36 AM
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I think it's regrettable that Cunctator mentioned the book that s/he did, and needlessly gave away one of the greatest twists in whodunnit literature. The OP refers only to narrators who die. The narrator in the book referred to does not die, so it is irrelevant. And even if the narrator did die in that book, it would be possible to mention this fact without ruining the whodunnit element of the story. I wouldn't kick up such a fuss except that this is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, twist ever achieved in whodunnit fiction, and while the book is now quite old there is always a new generation of readers who shouldn't have it spoiled for them.

Back to the OP... there is an Agatha Christie story which provides quite an interesting reply to the OP. The book does not have a first person narrator and is told in the normal third person 'omnipotent author' style... until the very final chapter. The final chapter is cleverly constructed as a letter left behind by someone. In effect, this person serves as a 'first person narrator' for the duration of this final chapter, comments on all that has happened in the book and provides the solution to the mystery. This narrator does die. Knowing this much about the final chapter doesn't, in and of itself, spoil the story or the twist in the tale, but I've put the title in the Spoiler Box for the sake of Agatha Christie fans. If you have already read a Christie story that fits the description I've given, then you will know which one I'm referring to. If you haven't, then you may prefer not to read the Spoiler Box even though, as I've said, knowing what I've written above does not spoil the story or the whodunnit element at all.
SPOILER:
The bok is 'Ten Little Indians' or 'And Then There Were None'
  #24  
Old 08-21-2005, 07:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OtakuLoki
The book that I'd thought of, first, had been the fourth book of Jack L. Chalker's Lords of the Diamond series.
SPOILER:
In that series each book is a first person narrative of an agent sent to examine the problems that the four planets were having. In the fourth book, the agent sent to the fourth planet dies - and there ended his narrative. The rest of the book deals with the person who recieved all the reports determining the proper action to deal with the crisis.
SPOILER:
He didn't die. He got turned into Ass, The bad guys sex toy. But the agent in charge sets it up so that Ass kills the bad guy and his 2 highest henchmen.


On a different note, what about the Castle Arrgh?
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Old 08-21-2005, 09:36 AM
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Me. *sniff* In the original manuscript of Podkayne of Mars, which is told in journal form, her brother, Clark, provides the final entries because Poddy dies. Heinlein's editor declared this Too Intense for Juvenile Readers, so the ending was changed to Poddy just getting badly hurt, and Clark writes some entries for her while she's in the hospital.

The modern paperback editions include both endings.

From Podkayne's diary: "None of us goes around sobbing over the millions and billions of people who have died in the past . . . nor over those still living and yet to be born whose certain heritage is death (including Podkayne Fries herself.) "
  #26  
Old 08-21-2005, 09:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WotNot
I’ve read that too, many years ago. I think it may be one of Lord Dunsany’s “Jorkens” stories.
Maybe. I am going through his stories, or at least the ones that are available online, and I will see if this is it. Thanks for the info.
  #27  
Old 08-21-2005, 10:12 AM
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Ok, don't get any bad ideas about me, I read this book out of curiosity, to see why it had such a hold on white supremacists.

The Turner Diaries is a novel told in the form of journal entries, and the main character goes on a suicide mission at the end, to prove his racial loyalty to his fellows. The epilogue is provided by those he fought with, and tells how the supremacist eventually won the racial war.

Besides being ugly in spirit the book is a hackneyed, poorly written and plotted tale. Ugh.
  #28  
Old 08-21-2005, 10:17 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Antigen
I haven't read it yet but I'm told that The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is narrated by a girl who's been murdered.
I read it. I didn't see what all the hoopla was about.
  #29  
Old 08-21-2005, 10:19 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ianzin
I think it's regrettable that Cunctator mentioned the book that s/he did, and needlessly gave away one of the greatest twists in whodunnit literature. The OP refers only to narrators who die. The narrator in the book referred to does not die, so it is irrelevant. And even if the narrator did die in that book, it would be possible to mention this fact without ruining the whodunnit element of the story. I wouldn't kick up such a fuss except that this is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, twist ever achieved in whodunnit fiction, and while the book is now quite old there is always a new generation of readers who shouldn't have it spoiled for them.
The book was put in a spoiler box, after all.
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Old 08-21-2005, 01:24 PM
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Another SF entry: Level Seven
SPOILER:
The narrator is one of the people in his country's deepest command & control bunker. After a cobalt-bomb doomsday war, the radio messages from other shelters fall silent one by one as radiation penetrates deeper than anyone thought possible. Their bunker is the last. The final chapter is the narrator's final rambling entries in his diary as he lays dying of radiation poisoning.
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Old 08-21-2005, 11:57 PM
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Didn't a number of lovecraft's stories end with the narrator about to die, or going insane?

I remember that the haunter of the Dark had the guy writing until the thing with the three-lobed burning eye killed him.
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  #32  
Old 08-22-2005, 01:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tapioca Dextrin
Valis by Philip K Dick

SPOILER:
The narrator dies halfway through
Just wondering, how did you arrive at that conclusion? I've read Valis twice and didn't see anything like that.

The book
SPOILER:
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
ends with the main character's death only a few minutes away, and has one of the most haunting last sentences in fiction ever. Gives me goosebumps every time.
  #33  
Old 08-22-2005, 10:43 AM
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I just read one, a short story called "Wake-Up Call" by David J. Schow. Although it may not exactly count, because the narrator dies at the beginning, too. Basically, the premise is that in the future, personal debt is out of control, and people frequently commit suicide to escape their creditors. Because society can't afford that, the government allows corporations to revive the dead and force people's reanimated bodies to work off their personal debts doing dangerous physical labor. So, right from the beginning, our narrator is a zombie.

SPOILER:
And from the sound of the ending, he may not have managed to kill himself for good then, either.
  #34  
Old 08-22-2005, 12:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OtakuLoki
A lot of these books seem to be cop-outs of one sort or another. It seems, somehow, to be cheating to have a dead character continue relating a story. [/spoiler]
Well then, how about Chuck Palahniuk's "Survivor"? It's not a gotcha moment either, given the beginning but the narrator lives exactly as long as the book.
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Old 08-22-2005, 04:02 PM
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Don't know if this qualifies, but in Silverberg's Up the Line...

SPOILER:
the narrator disappears mid-sentence as it's assumed that the "time police" (or whatever they're called, I forget) went back in time to the point before his story takes place and either stopped him from time travelling or "took care of him" to keep him from going.
  #36  
Old 08-22-2005, 04:18 PM
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Awww...my very first spoiler box. I'm so proud!
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Old 08-22-2005, 04:29 PM
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The first real mysteries I read was Ngaio Marsh's Death at the Bar. Up to this time I only read anthologies of short stories. The narrator does a pretty good job describing the antagonists in the book up to the point when he becomes it's first murder victim.

I hadn't been more shocked since I read The Big Bow Mystery by Israel Zangwill.
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Old 08-22-2005, 07:51 PM
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Firelord, by Parke Godwin. It's an Arthurian novel and it's no spoiler to say Arthur dies at the end, but it is narrated by him all the way to and through his death and entry into the spirit world.
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Old 08-22-2005, 07:57 PM
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For television series, how about last year's Desperate Housewives? The narrator gets killed early on in the series and narrates the rest of the season.
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Old 08-22-2005, 08:09 PM
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Of course, the movie Sunset Boulevard opens with a view of the corpse of the narrator floating in a swimming pool.
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Old 08-22-2005, 08:10 PM
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Uhm...I was just echoing pseudotriton ruber ruber there, because it's, like, such a good shot of the poor guy in the pool. Uh huh.
  #42  
Old 08-22-2005, 08:27 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ianzin
I think it's regrettable that Cunctator mentioned the book that s/he did, and needlessly gave away one of the greatest twists in whodunnit literature.
I suppose I assumed that people who didn't want any plot details divulged would steer clear of a thread where the title mentioned there'd be spoilers. But, on reflection, you've got a point ianzin. I could have worded the spoiler box better.

I'm a he by the way. Otherwise I'd be Cuntatrix.
  #43  
Old 08-23-2005, 02:11 AM
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SPOILER:
by Dave Duncan.

SPOILER:
by Dan Simmons.

SPOILER:
is a contender, though the character who dies is, and is not, the narrator.

Last edited by TubaDiva; 08-28-2005 at 11:31 PM.
  #44  
Old 08-23-2005, 05:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cunctator
I'm a he by the way. Otherwise I'd be Cuntatrix.
Cuntatrix is to Cockatrice as Sybilisk is to Basilisk.

I suppose you'll be telling me next that you never tasted an egg!
  #45  
Old 08-23-2005, 08:18 AM
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Would Flowers for Algernon count? Tho' I don't remember if the narrator dies, he's certainly very diminished at the end. Very, very sad book.
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Old 08-23-2005, 01:42 PM
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The implication is sure there that he's going to die, like Algernon did. But he's still alive at the end of the book.
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Old 08-23-2005, 02:12 PM
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How about Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities or Camus' L'Etranger? And would Shakespeare's Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, or MacBeth count?

And in Mythos stories it's common for narrators and other major characters to die - or worse - during the story.
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Old 08-24-2005, 09:38 PM
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Crap, I'm an idiot. Hyperlinks show up in spoiler boxes
  #49  
Old 08-24-2005, 10:40 PM
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The film All That Jazz is unusual in that it was autobiographical but Bob Fosse decided to change his own story by having "himself" die of the heart attack he survived in real life.
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Old 08-24-2005, 11:25 PM
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SPOILER:
In the Cut by Susanna Moore
published in the 90s ends with the death of the narrator. Several years later it was made into a movie starring
SPOILER:
Meg Ryan
that I haven't seen due to extremely low expectations. I have no idea if the movie ends the same way. If you're looking for a link for the book, which I won't put in the spoiler boxes to avoid the visible hyperlink problem, it can be found here.
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