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.
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.
‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.’
Murphy by Samuel Beckett
'I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.'
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
‘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
‘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
‘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
'A screaming comes across the sky.'
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
‘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.
'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
'The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.'
The Gunslinger by Stephen King
‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’
The Crow Road by Iain Banks
‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
'All this happened, more or less.'
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
'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.