10 opening lines that intrigue
Call me interested: do you have a favorite first line from a novel? “Call me Ishmael,” says the narrator, to begin Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Since first being published in 1851, this line has become one of literature's famously great first sentences. Other lines of similar status include the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), and a portion of Dickens’ first words in A Tale of Two Cities (1859).
Yet I'm not just curious about greatly famous opening lines. I'm also interested in finding intriguing first sentences in contemporary novels. Is there a first sentence that has drawn you into a book, encouraging or compelling you to read it? Stephen King has described the work and value of a first sentence, saying: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
Here are five first lines from novels that I recently enjoyed reading. These opening sentences appealed to me, and each book delivered on its initial promise, providing an excellent read.
- “Her body moved with the frankness that comes from solitary habits.” - Prodigal Summer (2000) by Barbara Kingsolver
- “The Little village of Obscurity is remarkable only for its unremarkableness.” - The Fourth Bear (2006) by Jasper Fforde
- “His first idol was Andrew Jackson.” - How the Dead Dream (2009) by Lydia Millet
- “Lightning has struck me all my life.” - Remarkable Creatures (2010) by Tracy Chevalier
- “Florence Gordon was trying to write a memoir, but she had two strikes against her: she was old and she was an intellectual.” - Florence Gordon (2014) by Brian Morton
Additionally, here are five famed first lines (ones I happen to like). Perhaps checking to see if you can identify each source will lead you to read, or read anew, a slightly older modern novel.
- “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” - published 1949
- “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” - published 1951
- “It was a pleasure to burn.” - published 1953
- “A screaming comes across the sky.” - published 1973
- "The sky above the port was the color of a television, tuned to a dead channel.” - published 1984
Finally, an opening line that continues to be irresistible to me – every time I read it – is the one beginning E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (1952): “Where’s Papa going with that axe?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” Suddenly, I’m struggling to swallow an ache and compelled to keep reading. In position and quality, this sentence is prime.