I can’t remember when I first heard this, but I was told once that the key to writing a good book was to be able to hook your reader on the first page. This has subsequently given me a lot of anxiety over my opening lines, but I also think this statement is true, at least to an extent. When I’m browsing a bookstore and find a book that looks interesting, I’ll pick it up and read the back cover. If I’m undecided as to whether or not I want to purchase it yet, I’ll open the book to the first page. If the writing doesn’t impress me on the first page, I will put it back on the shelf.
There are some books, however with opening lines that grab the reader and suck you into the story and make it impossible to put it down. In honor of those glorious first lines, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites for you to enjoy.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
“The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
I remember the first time I read this book because the opening line smacked me right between the eyes. Wilde’s ability to paint such an evocative picture with words was like a revelation to me. Each time I read this, I swear I can smell flowers. I keep expecting the power of these words to diminish over time, but it hasn’t happened yet. Probably never will.
The Valley of the Dolls
“The temperature hit ninety degrees the day she arrived. New York was steaming–an angry, concrete animal caught unawares in an unseasonable hot spell. But she didn’t mind the heat or the littered midway called Times Square. She thought New York was the most exciting city in the world.”
The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann isn’t exactly most people’s idea of brilliant literature, but don’t let the hot pink cover fool you. Personally, I find Susann’s character development to be some of the best I’ve ever read. You watch these characters as they start out young and naive and hopeful and watch them turn into unrecognizable monsters. It’s brilliant writing and, for me, my love affair with this book started the moment I read these opening sentences. The description of New York City as an angry, concrete animal is an image that has stuck with me since I first read it at age 14. It’s also brilliant foreshadowing of the story to come; Anne is in love with New York from the start, her one true love, and yet it promises her nothing in return but rage and sharp teeth.
“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”
Emma Cline’s 2016 novel The Girls is based on the Manson family and the Sharon Tate murders and tells the fictionalized account of a 14-year-old girl, Evie, who spends time at the family compound with the Manson family, both a part of the cult and apart from it. The opening line of this book is simple, but sometimes simple is best. Evie’s whole world revolves around these girls and in this opening line, I also want to see the girls who are laughing.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
I love the opening line of 1984 because with the small detail of the clocks striking thirteen, you are immediately introduced to the idea that something is not right. Of course, as this dystopian novel progresses, the reader soon learns that there are a lot of somethings that aren’t right.
Less Than Zero
“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.”
I think I enjoy the opening of this Bret Easton Ellis novel because it resonates with me. I freaking hate driving in LA.
What are your favorite first lines of novels? Let me know in the comments!
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