Novel Beginnings…some favourite first sentences

This page is devoted to the hooks, the great first lines that suck you into a novel, no matter how ultimately bad, and keep you reading, sometimes past the point of endurance.  Just kidding.  Some of the greatest novels have some of the most boring, uninteresting first sentences, so it is perhaps wise to give the author the benefit of the doubt and at least read the first couple.   Most of these first sentences come from at least interesting novels.  At the very least, you might find the first sentence puzzling, intriguing.

Let us therefore begin with one of the most recognizable first lines in all of western literature;

From Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:

Call me Ishmael. ( Who would have dared begin a novel with those three words….wonderful.)

A personal favourite…from Nikos Kazantzakis’ Zorba the Greek:

I first met him in Piraeus.

A blast from Erich Maria Remarque, best known for All Quiet on the Western Front…but here is a dandy, from his The Black Obelisk:

The sun is shining in the office of Heinrich Kroll and Sons, Funeral Monuments.

From Louis de Bernieres’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin:

Dr. Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.

From John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.

From Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar (I think his most lyrical novel-that-is-almost-a-poem):

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.

Two from Charles Bukowski..both from  autobiographical novels:

The first thing I remember is being under something.  (Ham on Rye)

It began as a mistake.  (Post Office)

From Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners:

The river flowed both ways.

From Sarah Schulman’s great lesbian detective novel After Delores:

I walked out in the snow trying to get away from Delores’ ghost.

From Nicholson Baker’s novel of telephone sex Vox:

“What are you wearing?” he asked. (the whole novel is a telephone conversation)

From Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Memories of My Melancholy Whores:

The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.  (thereby joining the two major periods in a man’s life:  adolescence and senescence)

And, while we are on the subject, from Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov:

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  (who can resist reading on?)

From D.H. Laurence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.

This wonderful first sentence from George Orwell’s 1984:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,”  Papa would say, “she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing…”     From the astonishingly surreal novel Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn.

Pissing down.        If you have ever been here in winter,  reading that, you just KNOW you are in Victoria, B.C…..the first sentence  of the magic novel   The Girl With the Botticelli Face … by W.D. Valgardson

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.

and , thus, we are introduced to Ignatius J. Reilly, main actor in  A Confederacy of Dunces…by John Kennedy Toole.

others will be added, at my whim.

Published on June 6, 2012 at 3:04 am  Leave a Comment  

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