Waterstones (a book shop) on Oxford Street (in London) have complied a list of their favourite opening lines.
Most cleverly tweak your curiosity by immediately upending your preconceptions, like the opener of A Christmas Carol. But my favourites are The Luck of the Bodkins and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
The P.G. Wodehouse opener is beautifully structured, evocative and funny, all at once. In one sentence it manages to set the scence, describe the character and finish with a punchline.
Hunter S. Thompson’s is so well known that you can miss how well written it is. The lack of commas breaking up the sentence draws you straight in to the manic mentality of the narrator. And for a seemingly simple sentence, the word choice is sharp. He might have written ‘…when the drugs began to kick in’, which just tells you that the characters are on drugs, but ‘…took hold’ sets the stage for the whole novel, a story of a men at the mercy of their intoxicants.
‘Marley was dead: to begin with.’ A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
‘The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.’ Murphy by Samuel Beckett.
‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shift, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.’ The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse.
‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’ Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.
‘High, high above the North Pole, on the first day of 1969, two professors of English Literature approached each other at a combined velocity of 1200 miles per hour.’ Changing Places by David Lodge.
‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’ The Crow Road by Iain Banks.
‘I was born twice; first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.’ Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.