27 May 2012

FIVE MORE OF THE BEST FIRST LINES IN FICTION (ACCORDING TO THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER)

Anthony Burgess
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.”



Dodie Smith
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.”



Sylvia Plath
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




Donna Tartt
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




Robert Louis Stevenson
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?


26 comments:

Arti said...

Loved the 4th one! Sets the tone for the entire novel, really wonderful.
Have a nice Sunday Tracy:)

Betty Manousos said...

the bottom one takes my vote.

have a great remainder of the weekend, tracy dear.

xx

Kimberly @ On the Wings of Books said...

The Jane Eyre line is still my favorite but The Bell Jar is really good too. And I Capture the Castle. Ok, really they are all good!

Kelly said...

These are all so different it's getting difficult to choose a favorite. I know so many folks who loved The Bell Jar, but I've never been sure if I could handle her melancholoy. I think the Donna Tartt novel is my favorite opener from this batch. I either have that book buried in my TBR pile somewhere or I seriously considered buying it at one point. (or maybe my daughter read it and told me about it) That first line piques my interest again, so I may have to go check my bookshelves.

anilkurup said...

I'll go with Sylvia Path.

The question asked , "where were you when JFK was assassinated?

The Golden Eagle said...

I like that first line from Treasure Island!

Alexia561 said...

I like the one from I Capture the Castle, as you can't go wrong with a book that starts off with the narrator sitting in the kitchen sink! :)

naida said...

Such great ones! I am especially intrigued by The Secret History.

Jess@The Secret DMS Files of Fairday Morrow said...

I really like the first line of Jane Eyre and I know there are many books that make me take notice with the first sentence. Another that stands out to me is from Pillars of the Earth- “The small boys came early to the hanging.”

AguiLeon said...

now following you

carol said...

I may have to pick up The Secret History based on that opening sentence. My favorite of the five though is probably the one from The Bell Jar.

Jenners said...

Good to see a more modern book on the list -- I remember loving The Secret History but it was so long ago that I barely remember it. I think perhaps a reread might be in order.

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