Classic first lines of novels

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard”.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“This is not an ordinary cookbook.”

“Call me Ishmael.”

What are yours?

19 thoughts on “Classic first lines of novels

    1. extras
      He — for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it — was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.
      A cool heavenly breeze took possession of him.
      The actors by their presence always convince me, to my horror, that most of what I’ve written about them until now is false.
      The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born — we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg.

  1. different aesthetic, here:
    “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”
    “We were halfway across the desert, on the outskirts of Barstow, when the drugs began to take effect.”
    “riverrun, past Eve and Adam, through swerve of shore and bend of bay…”
    You’d think I would remember the opening lines of Ulysses or The Illuminatus Trilogy, given the number of times I’ve read them…

      1. Re: different aesthetic, here:
        and you busted me on the misremembered HST quote!
        But I’m HOME now. I got BOOKS!
        “Stately, Plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
        and to fix my mauling of Finnegans Wake:
        “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”
        and add:
        “A merry litle surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.”
        “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unspeakable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”

  2. “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.”
    “I am old now, and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.”
    “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
    “I woke up in bed with a man and a cat.”
    “Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs.”

  3. *As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me. (England my englans)-george orwell is the master of opening lines.
    *It was a pleasure to burn. (Farenheit 451)
    *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)
    *If you’re going to read this, don’t brother.(choke)
    there are way way lots.

  4. First lines
    “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” — from Neuromancer, a book that has survived twenty years of crap being derived from it. Its flakey French translation:
    “Le ciel au-dessus du port était couleur télé calée sur un émetteur
    hors service.”
    It’s intereresting when good novels don’t go for the showy first line. For example, here’s Naked Lunch:
    “I awoke from The Sickness at the age of forty-five, calm and sane, and
    in reasonably good health except for a weakened liver and the look of
    borrowed flesh common to all who survive The Sickness… Most survivors
    do not remember the delirium in detail. I apparently took detailed notes
    on sickness and delirium…”. Altho if I remember right, Burroughs never saw galley proofs, and the publisher just decided to print the book in the semirandom order in which the chapters arrived in the mail — which would mean that this wasn’t actually meant to be the first line of the book.

  5. “A screaming comes across the sky.” (Gravity’s Rainbow)
    Also, Bely’s Petersburg has my favorite first chapter title: “Arguments In the Street Became More Frequent”

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