Beautiful opening lines arrest the attention, arouse the curiosity, and set the mood for the narrative. Sometimes they also seem to be one sentence summaries of the story. Here are some of the most beautiful opening lines I have come across in books.
- Mother died today. — Albert Camus, The Stranger
- 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. — Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
- 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. — Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
- Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
- It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. — Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
- Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. — Franz Kafka, The Trial
- If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
- He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. — Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
- I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. — Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome
- Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. — Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
Opening lines can be beautiful in themselves, but it’s usually what follows them that gives them power. Do you think “Call me Ishmael,” would have been so powerful if the rest of Moby Dick was lousy? I doubt it.
Which is your favorite opening line?