I read a lot and one of the things that I want in a novel is a great opening that hooks my interest and compels me to keep reading.
Last week my friend, Sammi – who is rapidly turning into my blog muse – asked me which book I thought had the best opening line. It seemed like a great idea for a blog post, especially since my brain immediately went blank and couldn’t think of a good answer.
So I spent a couple of evenings flicking through the contents of my bookshelves to select the novels with the most striking openings. For most, I included the first few lines of text, because it’s hard to choose a single striking line, although Apples does have a killer first sentence that stands alone brilliantly.
Here are the 12 that caught my attention:
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Jon McGregor
If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house.
It’s clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.
It’s a wordless song, for the most, but it’s a song all the same, and nobody hearing it could doubt what it sings. And the song sings the loudest when you pick out each note.
Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut
All this happened, more or less. The war parts, anyway, are pretty much true. One guy I knew really was shot in Dresden for taking a teapot that wasn’t his. Another guy I knew really did threaten to have his personal enemies killed by hired gunmen after the war. And so on. I’ve changed all the names.
The Motorcycle Diaries, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara
This is not a story of incredible heroism, or merely the narrative of a cynic; at least I do not mean it to be. It is a glimpse of two lives that ran parallel for a time, with similar hopes and convergent dreams.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
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…
The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope.
The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
I never knew her in life. She exists for me through others, in evidence of the ways her death drove them. Working backward, seeking only facts, I reconstructed her as a sad little girl and a whore, at best a could-have-been – a tag that might equally apply to me.
Apples, Richard Milward
We got McDonald’s the night my mam got lung cancer. Jenni was sat there smoking a superking, and I was trying not to sit there so upset. We looked weird dressed up and stuffing our faces, but I couldn’t eat a thing.
The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.
I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas.
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Jar
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 Crow Road, Iain Banks
It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach’s Mass in B minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach.
(Read my review of The Crow Road).
So, what do you think of my choices? What would you add to the list?