Earthly Powers (1980)
“It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.” This is one of the supreme show-off first-person openings. Burgess challenges the reader (and himself) to step on to the roller coaster of a very tall tale (loosely based on the life of Somerset Maugham). It is matched by Rose Macaulay’s famous opening to The Towers of Trebizond: “‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”
I Capture the Castle (1948)
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” A brilliant beginning to a much-loved English classic, which tells us almost all we need to know about the narrator Cassandra Mortmain. Quirky and high-spirited, Dodie Smith’s novel is really an exercise in nostalgia. Smith (subsequently famous for The Hundred and One Dalmatians) was living in 1940s California, and wrote this story, in a sustained fever of nostalgia, to remind her of home. Perhaps only an English writer could extract so much resonance from that offbeat reference to “the kitchen sink.”
The Bell Jar (1963)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Postwar American first lines don’t come much more angsty or zeitgeisty than this. Compare Saul Bellow’s Herzog: “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.” First published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas”, this first novel seems to parallel Sylvia Plath’s own descent into suicide. In fact, The Bell Jar was published only a month after its author’s tragic death in the bleak winter of 1963
The Secret History (1992)
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” In this spooky opening, Tartt plunges the reader into the middle of a crime whose consequences will reverberate throughout the ensuing pages. Like all the best beginnings, the sentence also tells us something about the narrator, Richard Papen. He’s the outsider in a group of worldly students at Hampden College in rural Vermont. He was expecting a break from his bland suburban Californian life, but he doesn’t quite understand what he’s got himself into
Treasure Island (1883)
“Squire Trelawnay, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-- and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof.” Among the most brilliant and enthralling opening lines in the English language
So which is your favourite first line amongst today's books or do you still prefer one of the quotes featured in my previous First Lines post which you can click HERE to view?
OR perhaps you have a suggestion of your own, which first line do you think is worthy of a place in the Top 10 Of First Lines?