Have you ever picked up a book, opened the first page and got your mind blown by the opening lines? Even to the point where you couldn’t put the book down? I have. On countless occasions, I’ve found myself reading books which I had no intention of reading, just because I was captivated by the opening lines.
While writing a great opening line does not necessarily translate to writing a great book, it’s a good way for writers to introduce the reader into a different world and to hold the reader’s attention. Writing captivating opening lines is a common trait of great writers and it’s no surprise that this list contains a lot of famous writers.
Let’s go through some of the best opening lines in novels we have seen so far.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Arguably Leo Tolstoy’s most famous work, Anna Karenina is a tragic story of love in a 19th century Russian society. The opening line captures what is to be a recurring theme throughout the whole book.
“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.”
A fantastic book set in the 18th Century about life in London and Paris. It also covers the period of the French Revolution.
“In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out
to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.”
The first book of a trilogy, Ben Okri tells the story of a boy brought into the world from the spirit world. Filled with vivid descriptions of strange beings, the book is unlike any book you have ever read.
“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
The Color Purple is set in the southern parts of America, in the era where segregation and misogyny were rife. Women of color were especially treated very badly. The opening line of the book captures the fear felt by the writer as she expressed herself to her sister in a letter.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
George Orwell’s book perhaps has the most vivid description of a dystopian and totalitarian society.
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….”
James Joyce paints a self-portrait of himself in his childhood and his youth, through a fictional character.
“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.”
When Constance Chatterley’s husband is injured badly in war, and becomes paralysed from the waist downward, she seems to be affected even more by this predicament.
“My good sir, I wonder if I might venture to offer you some help?”
It takes conviction to start a novel with a question, and that is exactly what Albert Camus did with The Fall. A successful former lawyer tells the story of his fall from grace to a stranger over a few drunken nights.