Your favorite literary quotes about the afterlife
September 21, 2023 2:20 PM   Subscribe

I just finished reading The Goldfinch and the best part for me was the narrator's vivid imaginings of their deceased parent "on the other side." Can you suggest literary works that have memorable, poetic, vivid intimations of what the afterlife is like?
posted by tackypink to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo and Lorrie Moore's I am Not Homeless if This is Not My Home are two recent novels that have vividly imagined senses of an in-between, kinda-sorta, after life but not afterlife. They're both excellent.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:28 PM on September 21 [8 favorites]

I am not sure whether you mean quotes or works, because your subject says quotes and the body of the post says works, but my favorite in this genre is "The Brief History of the Dead" by Kevin Brockmeier.
posted by virve at 2:29 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

You may like The Midnight Club by Christopher Pike

(I picked it up when they announced the Netflix series, read it, watched the trailer for the Netflix series, and then declined to watch the Netflix series because I was afraid it would ruin the very sweet and sad story that I enjoyed so much.)
posted by phunniemee at 2:45 PM on September 21

The story of The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is told by a murdered young girl who speaks from her own personal version of heaven.
posted by mochapickle at 2:47 PM on September 21 [5 favorites]

Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
posted by Rash at 3:49 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

I read Dale Evans Rogers' book Angel Unaware when I was very young and I have to say it was comforting even though I was a jaded youth. It is written from the perspective, from heaven, of Robin, Roy and Dale's daughter born with Down Syndrome. She died very young.
One note says this book changed the way children with Down Syndrome were treated.
*Could possibly be too naive-religousy for some people. But I am thinking of buying some copies and giving to people who have lost a child. Because it is comforting in spite of the naivety. For me.
posted by cda at 4:12 PM on September 21

Came in to recommend Lincoln in the Bardo and was beaten to it. Strongly second!

I'm also quite fond of Jim Crace's Being Dead (but take the title literally!).

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer deals with death and the afterlife more ambiguously but if you're willing to entertain a broad interpretation of your theme, it might be worth checking out.
posted by snaw at 5:01 PM on September 21

How about going straight to Dante's Inferno with the translation by Irish poet Ciaran Carson.
posted by ojocaliente at 5:34 PM on September 21

I don't remember the details because I read it some time ago but there was a story in Ted Chiang's Stories of Your Life that had a strange version of the afterlife I found troubling and haunting.
posted by less-of-course at 5:38 PM on September 21

I've always been a fan of the ghost of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol:

‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?‘”

″‘It is required of every man,’ the Ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!‘”
posted by FencingGal at 8:06 PM on September 21

I believe the Ted Chiang story that less-of-course remembers may be "Hell is the Absence of God," which is part of the anthology Stories of Your Life and Others. It is indeed memorable in the mind-bending sort of way, and meticulous in the way of Ted Chiang stories.
posted by adventitious at 8:27 PM on September 21

"Separation penetrates the disappearing person like a pigment and steeps him in gentle radiance."
Walter Benjamin
posted by hortense at 9:23 PM on September 21

From Richard’s dream about Henry in the closing passage of The Secret History by Donna Tartt:

‘What is this place?' I asked him. 'That information is classified, I'm afraid.' I looked around curiously. It seemed that I was the only visitor. 'Is it open to the public?' I said. 'Not generally, no.' I looked at him. There was so much I wanted to ask him, so much I wanted to say; but somehow I knew there wasn't time and even if there was, that it was all, somehow, beside the point. 'Are you happy here?' I said at last. He considered this for a moment. 'Not particularly,' he said. 'But you're not very happy where you are, either.'
posted by greycap at 10:30 PM on September 21 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, I feel like I was born for this moment. In every book thread that applies, I will often pop in to say, "Passage, by Connie Willis." Never before have I meant it so strongly. You want Passage, by Connie Willis. I hope you read it and love it as I did.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:30 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Came in to recommend Passage by Connie Willis.
posted by 15L06 at 2:49 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

For me this little bit of Crime and Punishment is certainly memorable. Raskolnikov and Svidrigailov discuss the afterlife:
"I don't believe in a future life," said Raskolnikov.

Svidrigailov sat lost in thought.

"And what if there are only spiders there, or something of that sort," he said suddenly.

"He is a madman," thought Raskolnikov.

"We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that."
posted by paper chromatographologist at 5:27 AM on September 22

Reincarnation Blues is a fun read of this type - it's about a person who is reincarnated a whole bunch of times and spends the intermediary time in purgatory.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:42 AM on September 22 [1 favorite]

To add another option, Mo Yan's Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out.
posted by snaw at 4:00 PM on September 22

Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk is pretty vivid.
posted by cocoagirl at 6:31 PM on September 22

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