Monday, June 11, 2007

Famous First Lines

~ Lynette Rees ~

You pick up a book from the shelf, deliberating whether or not you will buy it. Now, if you are anything like me, after scanning the picture on the front cover and reading the back cover blurb, then giving those the thumbs up, you open the book and read the first couple of lines. If they do not immediately grab you by the throat, then chances are, you won’t purchase that book. The author in question has lost another sale.

So, what first lines grabbed you, making you want to read on?

Here are some of mine:

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden:

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.”

What a powerful start to a book! It’s the type of sentence that makes me want to read on even though it’s quite long as sentences go. It has a kind of an intimacy about it as though the narrator is talking to an old friend. It also poses the question: How on earth could that afternoon be the very best afternoon of that person’s life and also the very worst? Intriguing.

It Had To Be You, Susan Elizabeth Phillips:

PHOEBE Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.

This sentence conjures up a very visual start to a book for me. It immediately makes me think this book is going to have comedic elements to it and begs the question: Why is Phoebe Somerville intent on putting everyone’s backs up at her father’s funeral?

A Tale of Two Cities by 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 - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The two cities Dickens refers to in the title are London and Paris. Throughout the novel, pairs of people, places, etc. are compared and contrasted. The book takes place just before the start of the French revolution. Again, this is another long sentence and very poetic at that. In some ways I find it similar to the start of Memoirs of a Geisha in so much as the way the narrator provides us with the element of contrast.

Not only does this book have a very famous first line, it also has a famous closing line:

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

So what are your favourite first lines? Please post them below for discussion.


Lynette Rees has two books out with The Wild Rose Press this year: It Happened One Summer and Return to Winter. Visit Lynette's website, here:


Allie Boniface said...

Jodi Picoult has some great first lines:

"Several miles into his journey, Jack St. Bride decided to give up his former life." (Salen Falls)

"I was six years old the first time I disappeared." (Vanishing Acts)

"When I was little, the great mystery to me wasn't how babies were made, but why." (My Sister's Keeper)

This author has actually said in interviews that she doesn't start writing a book until she has a kick-a** first line.

Lynette said...

You've given some great examples, Allie. They make me want to read those particular books. :) That's interesting what Jodi Picoult said about not starting to write a book until she has a kick-a** first line.