The 27 Best Opening Lines

Ellie Harrison has an article on this subject in the 17 October 2019 issue of the Independent. She said,

“The first sentence of any piece of writing is arguably the most important – both in terms of hooking the reader in and of doing justice to the body of work that it is introducing. Our attempt, here, is perhaps a little on-the-nose and definitely overestimates the quality of the copy that follows but, hey, it caught your attention and demonstrated our point.”

Ellie Harrison

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” – Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” – The Secret History by Donna Tartt

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“It was love at first sight.” – Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

“Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.” – High-Rise by JG Ballard

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” – Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.” – The Stranger by Albert Camus

“124 was spiteful.” – Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

“All this happened, more or less.” – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“All children, except one, grow up.” – Peter Pan by JM Barrie

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” – The Go-Between by LP Hartley

“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 anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” – Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” – David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” – The Crow Road by Iain Banks

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” – Murphy by Samuel Beckett

While I agree with Ms Harrison that the role of a first line is to capture the reader’s attention and to introduce the story which is to come, I don’t feel that some of these opening lines do the job. Some seem annoying and untruthful, like the exploding grandmother and writing in the sink. But others, like the first line of David Copperfield, are quite catchy.

Well, here’s my latest first line: “I’m not sure I should have accepted this assignment.” Granduncle Bertie will be out early next year.

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