I was recently directed to this story about the best opening lines in fiction. And they all sucked. Every single one. Well, except Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And Barrie’s Peter and Wendy. And Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Okay, so it’s possible I was exaggerating slightly when I said they all sucked. But I wasn’t a fan of a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong, novels like Wuthering Heights, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Jane Eyre are all excellent. But “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” does not a great first line make.
So I rummaged through my library to dig out my own list of 15 fantastic examples of opening lines in fiction:
1. The Turn of the Screw, Henry James
The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happen to say that it was the only cast he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.
2. Buddha Da, Anne Donovan
Ma Da’s a nutter.
3. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.
4. Madame Doubtfire, Anne Fine
All the way up the stairs, the children fought not to carry the envelope.
5. Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie
All children, except one, grow up.
6. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
7. Dune, Frank Herbert
In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.
8. Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
9. State of Fear, Michael Crichton
In the darkness, he touched her arm and said, “Stay here.”
10. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.
11. Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.
12. Neuromancer, William Gibson
The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.
13. Singularity Sky, Charles Stross
The day war was declared, a rain of telephones fell clattering to the cobblestones from the skies above Novy Petrograd.
14. I am Legend, Richard Matheson
On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.
15. The Hobbit, J R R Tolkien
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.
Pretty good, aren’t they? Now I dare you to do better. Find a better opening line. I bet you can’t.