Opening Lines…

A shortish blog today because I do really enjoy hearing what you all have to say on certain subjects and thought that today’s topic of discussion might be one you could all throw yourselves into. It’s the subject of those tricky things… the opening lines of a book.

Yesterday I let you know my thoughts on ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ by Marghanita Laski which the lovely Novel Insights kindly lent to me after borrowing it from her library and thinking it might be very me. In all the excitement I took a brief peek at the opening lines and I instantly said to Polly ‘oh yes this is very me’. Isn’t it amazing how one single line can sell you a book in the space of mere seconds as you can see below…

‘Will you give me your word of honour,’ said Melanie, ‘that I am not going to die?’

That one simple line had me intrigued from the start and so I decided to look at why that might be. Instantly you want to know who Melanie is, why she fears she might die and just who is giving their word and the motives behind it all. I realised that I don’t really notice the first line of a book and have decided that I shall in future. Don’t worry I am not about to start doing a brief additional post each time I start a new book with simply the opening line (though that is an idea) I will be keeping a note of them in my book notes notebook though. After all great opening lines don’t always guarantee a great book (though the above one did) and not all great books start with a corker of an opening line. The book I am reading now is superb however the line ‘I climbed aboard the Little No.5 as I did every morning on my way to work’ isn’t exactly scintillating is it? The book is brilliant though.

So how about this for an idea… why don’t you all join in and also make notes of the opening lines that greet you in the books you start over the next month too and we meet on the 2nd of April and see what results we find? What great lines have been the openers of great reads or dud ones, vice versa and everything in between? Sound a plan? I also wondered if any authors who might read this blog could comment on how important/difficult those first lines are, if they are of course?

In the meantime what is your favourite opening line of any book ever? I wonder if you can guess what mine might be?


Filed under Book Thoughts

31 responses to “Opening Lines…

  1. novelinsights

    Ooh, I’d like to have a guess…is it

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”


  2. Actually no! Its a very famous one of course and is the opener to a favourite book yet its not a hooking opener!

  3. Eva

    I was just thinking about this when I started a new Marquez last night (Autumn of the Patriarch) and was greeted with this:
    Over the weekend the vultures got into the presidential palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows and the slapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its legarthgy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.

    I immediately loved it-he writes such good openers!

    I don’t know if I have a very favourite opening line ever. But all of Austen’s, as soon as I read them, I feel like I’m sinking into a hot bath, because I know my reread will be perfect and relaxing and just wonderful. 😀

    For you…maybe the first of Miss Marple’s books?
    “It is difficult to know quite where to begin this story, but I have fixed my choice in a certain Wednesday at luncheon at the Vicarage.”

    But that’s a total shot in the dark.

    • Thats a very delightful descriptive opener indeed Eva! I like the idea of opening lines having the effect of sinking into hot bath. I do prefer mine to grip me a little and drag me into the story.

      It;’s not the Miss Marple books openers either, I wonder if anyone will guess.

  4. farmlanebooks

    My favourite opening line is: “After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper ”
    from Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

    I have no idea what yours might be!

    • That is a superb opening line. Does the rest of the book live up to that opener, its one of the books that got destroyed when we had the roof leak and as yet I havent replaced it or borrowed it from the library.

  5. ana

    Hard to top Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers ” It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

    Can’t guess yours, but must say I too was drawn to suggest “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ Do enjoy its resonance.

    Looking forward to finding out what Simon Says.

  6. Oo what a good idea, I love a good opening line. I have many favourites but this is the one that immediately sprung to mind:

    “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 Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

    I really can’t guess what yours might be, you read sooo much lol.

    • I think I am going to leave you all in the dark a while longer and see what you all come up with Jessica.

      I do want to try and read some Douglas Adams as he is an author I am really keen to try out, especially as I see his grave regularily at highgate!

  7. My favourite is “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink”.

    I would have guessed Rebecca’s opening line for you too; it is one of my favourites as well as the one above.

    I always pay attention to openers; in fact, any new book I acquire, I read the opening line of before setting it aside to be read later.

    • Its interesting the Rebecca opener didnt hook me at all which I find interesting as it then became my favourite book, well favourite book for now.

      I am rubbish I don’t look at opening lines on the whole and it was The Victorian Chaise Longue that made me think this all over.

  8. Claires must think alike: my favourite opening line is also “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

    I recently read Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde and was very taken by that opening as well: “It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit and ended up with my being eaten by a carnivorous plant.”

    Will not even presume to guess your favourite!

  9. i’m a fan of both “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” and “last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again”…I also like “It was a bright sunny day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen” – because it is unusual, not because I especially enjoyed 1984!

  10. gaskella

    I love “The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.” (Casino Royale) – it just tickles me. I also like “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” from Hitchhiker’s Guide.

    • Ooooh yes that is a good opening line Annabel and one that I read and didnt pay attention to so am glad you have made me aware of that corker again. See I just dont note the openers and thats not good reading practice I am now thinking.

  11. One of my favorite opening lines came from an unexpected book: A Density of Souls, by Christopher Rice. It goes like this…

    “In their thirteenth summer, beneath a sky thickening with summer thunderclouds, four friends rode their bikes to Lafayette Cemetery where the dead are buried above ground.”

    Very atmospheric. That’s why I like it so much.

  12. Deb

    I must say opening lines don’t often stay with me (unless, as in the cases of Rebecca or Pride and Prejudice, they become part of the culture). The only first line I remember right off the top of my head is the first line of Gone with the Wind: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized this when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were” (orry, rough paraphrase after the first five words), possibly because I read the book numerous times when I was in my teens. However, your post put me in mind of a contest that New York magazine ran many years ago: Submit the (made up, of course) first line of a book you never finished reading. The winner was, “‘I like being a virgin better,’ she said.”

    And who can forget the Monty Python skit in which Thomas Hardy’ writing “A Saturday afternoon was approaching the time of twilight” (the first line of The Return of the Native) was treated as a sporting event?

    • I completely think that the most famous opening lines arent the ones that are always the best, theya re more the ones that have become a part of culture and engrained and so we think the classics are always the best (a bit like books) and there are some great openers we dont hear about.

  13. I agree with Eva, Garcia Marquez’s opening lines are all brilliant.

    I must say, I ALWAYS judge a book, not by its cover, not by its synopsis, but by its opening lines! Yes, I sadly almost never give a chance to any book that has terrible opening lines! (Unless required to, like ARCs or book group reads.)

    And it has rarely ever failed me. Most of the books I do continue reading I end up loving. Hence, the significant lack of negative reviews on my blog.

    • Oh and I forgot to write down my favourite opening lines! It’s from White Nights by Dostoevsky:

      “It was a lovely night, one of those nights, dear reader, which can only happen when you are young.”

  14. It’s a great idea! I don’t think I take much notice of opening lines, but you have inspired me to look back at some of my recent reads to see if there’s anything remarkable there…

  15. Great idea, will have to start making notes! It’s strange how rarely I really notice the opening lines to books.

    My favourite is to Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead, and it made me instantly read it: “The ducks swam through the drawing-room window.”

    • Its another instance where we Simons are alike. I am hopeless with opening lines and have really very rarely noticed one and I think they are possibly very hard to write. Bizarre!

      I do like that opening line very much.

  16. I agree with Simon on the Barbara Comyns quote. In addition to that, I have always loved the first coupld of lines from The Crow Road by Ian 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.

    Great post – thank you for sharing,


  17. mee

    I LOVE opening lines! In fact, I always note down the first line of every book I review (which is everything I read). I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned Lolita:
    “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
    And talking about Garcia Marquez, how about:
    “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”
    Strong opening line is key I say! 🙂

    ps: It’s just a coincidence that the two I remembered were something with adolescent girl… oops..

  18. Pingback: The Long Song – Andrea Levy « Savidge Reads

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