The first lines of a novel are probably the most important. Most of the time, they are really what determine whether we drop a book or keep going.
The best 53 first-liners for novels
The first lines of a novel are probably the most important
Buzzfeed compiled a list of the best firstliners for novels:
1. "It was a queer sultry summer, the summer they executed the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."
— The Bell Jar by Sarah Plath
2. “The war in Zagreb began over a pack of cigarettes.”—Girl at War by Sara Nović
3. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”—100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
4. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” —Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
5. “What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.”—Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
6. “I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead.”—On the Road by Jack Kerouac
7. “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”—The Stranger by Albert Camus
8. “Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.”—An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
9. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
—1984 by George Orwell
10. “The play—for which Briony had designed the posters, programs and tickets, constructed the sales booth out of a folding screen tipped on its side, and lined the collection box in red crêpe paper—was written in her two-day tempest of composition, causing her to miss a breakfast and a lunch.”—Atonement by Ian McEwan
11. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
12. “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”—Ulysses by James Joyce
13. “He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.”—Orlando by Virginia Woolf
14. “Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself.”—Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
15. “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”—Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
16. “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we understood the gravity of our situation.” —The Secret History by Donna Tartt
17. "If you're reading this on a screen, fuck off. I'll only talk if I'm gripped with both hands."
—Book Of Numbers by Joshua Cohen
18. “It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.” —The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
19. “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too.”—Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
20. “The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.” —The Gunslinger by Stephen King
21. “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 shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”—The Luck of the Bodkins by PG Wodehouse
22. “Quiet as it’s kept, there were no marigolds in the fall of 1941.”—The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
23. “With a strength born of the decision that had just come to her in the middle of the night, Avery Johnson forced the suitcase shut on the clothes piled inside and slid the lock in place.”—Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall
24. “It was a pleasure to burn.”—Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
25. "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles."
—Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
26. “All this happened, more or less.”—Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
27. “It was a nice day. All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn’t been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.”—Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
28. “It was late in the spring when I noticed that a girl was following me, nearly the end of May, a month that means perhaps or might be.”—Dietland by Sarai Walker
29. “My father is gone. I’m slouched in a cast-aluminum chair across from two men, one the manager of the hotel we’re staying and the other a policeman. They’re both waiting for me to explain what’s become of him, my father.”—The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat
30. “My brain was drowning in grease.”—The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
31. "Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and I believed them to be trustworthy."
—Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
32. “Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.”—Moby Dick by Herman Melville
33. “‘You’ve no choice. Look back.’”—The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy
34. “In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.”—The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
35. “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’”—The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
36. “One day, I was already old, in the entrance of a public place a man came up to me.”—The Lover by Marguerite Duras
37. “Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody’s always going on about—he wasn’t no home-runner hitter or fly bachetero, not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.”—The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
38. “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”—Murphy by Samuel Beckett
39. "To start with, look at all the books."
— The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugendies
40. “This morning Rino telephoned. I thought he wanted money again and I was ready to say no. But that was not the reason for the phone call: his mother was gone.”—My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
41. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”—The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
42. “The Rutherford girl had been missing for eight days when Larry Ott returned home and found a monster waiting in his house.”—Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
43. “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 Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
44. “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”—The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
45. “Quietly, like a shadow, I watch this drama unfold scene by scene. I am the lucid one here, the dangerous one, and nobody suspects.”—Love, Anger, Madness: A Haitian Triptych by Marie Vieux-Chauvet
46. “It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel.”—A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
47. "She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance."
—The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
48. “I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm.”—Kindred by Octavia Butler
49. “Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hoping judgement would not be too heavy upon him.”—White Teeth by Zadie Smith
50. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.”—The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
51. “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn.”—The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
52. “My name is Kathy H. I am thirty-one years old, and I’ve been a carer now for over eleven years.”—Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
53. “The final dying sounds of their dress rehearsal left the Laurel Players with nothing to do but stand there, silent and helpless, blinking over the footlights of an empty auditorium.”—Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
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