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Fourteen fantastic first lines

They say the first line is one of the most important parts of a book. Get it right and the readers’ eyes are all yours, get it wrong and they’ll start looking around, distracted by the feet of strangers or two birds fighting over a sandwich.

Posted on 5th March 2015 by Jonathan O'Brien

On our Instagram we’ve been asking people for the first lines that have grabbed them. So, along with a few of our own personal favourites, here are fourteen fantastic first lines. And yes, we chose fourteen entirely so we could have a pleasingly alliterative headline. When in doubt, alliterate. 

1.

‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

2.

‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.’

Murphy by Samuel Beckett

3.

'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.'

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith 

4.

‘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 J.K. Rowling

5.

‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shift, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.’

The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse

6.

‘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

7.

'A screaming comes across the sky.'

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

8.

‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Just a note on this one. When Neuromancer was published a dead channel would have produced static, leaving the sky a horrible grey. Nowadays a dead channel leaves quite a lovely shade of blue. For the generation who grow up never experiencing static, this line will make no sense.

9.

'They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man's mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that it is in a body that, in the morning, is going to be hanged.'

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

10.

'The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.'

The Gunslinger by Stephen King

11.

‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’

The Crow Road by Iain Banks

12.

‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

13.

'All this happened, more or less.'

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

14.

'Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.'

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

--

As always, lists like these will leave out a couple of your favourites. Let us know and embarrass us if we’ve missed anything glaringly obvious.

Comments

Carole Anne

A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment. - the opening line of Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy View more

Carole Anne
29th March 2015
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Ruth Sherratt

"It was a bright cold day in April and the Clocks were striking thirteen"
The opening of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and an absolutely classic entry into a bleak modernity View more

Ruth Sherratt
29th March 2015
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Lior Blum

'It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplin, he fell madly in love with him.' Catch 22 by Joseph Heller View more

Lior Blum
29th March 2015
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Susan Rowe

One of those lines that sticks in your brain. I first read Catch 22 in 1967 and have never forgotten how it started.

Susan Rowe
29th March 2015
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Simon Richards

"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." Charles Dickens, A Tales of Two Cities
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Simon Richards
29th March 2015
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rosina reader

'Arse over elbow and a mouthful of river.' Brilliant opening line from 'Weathering' by Lucy Wood. View more

rosina reader
7th March 2015
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Sarah Arnold

'The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there' The Go-Between by LP Hartley View more

Sarah Arnold
7th March 2015
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Luiza Seara Schiewe

'Everyone thinks I'm dead' - World After, Susan Ee
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Luiza Seara Schiewe
6th March 2015
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Federica Ongaro

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” is my favorite one. This is from Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy View more

Federica Ongaro
6th March 2015
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Kerry Meech at Piccadilly

How about "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." from 1984 by George Orwell? That's a pretty awesome opening line.


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Kerry Meech at Piccadilly
5th March 2015
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