Favourite opening lines

May 21, 2010

This article in the Irish Times 1224269210849.html asks some authors what their favourite opening line is. I think The Outsider is rightly mentioned as a favourite a couple of times: ‘Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know’.

I’ve always liked Saul Bellow’s opening line to Herzog: ‘If i am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog’. Brighton Rock’s also sets the tone of menace that follows in the rest of the novel: ‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.’ Great stuff.


4 Responses to “Favourite opening lines”

  1. tbm7 said

    It’s interesting to note, on reading the original Irish Times article, how none of the authors taking part really seem to rate the importance of the opening line. I’ve always thought that, whilst it isn’t crucial, surely the opening line is too good an opportunity to waste with something lacklustre?

    In a short story, where there’s even less time to play with, the first line can be vital. Raymond Carver’s opening to his story Elephant – “I knew it was a mistake to lend my brother the money” – is a great example of a hook that immediately draws you in.

    And it’s not only books that benefit from an immediate hook; a great opener is never out of place in a song. Whilst certainly not the most fashionable of bands, I have no shame in here putting forward the Black Crowes’, for the opening verse of She Talks to Angels:

    She never mentions the word ‘addiction’
    In certain company
    Yeah, she’ll tell you she’s an orphan
    After you meet her family

    But that’s just one that springs to mind right now. I’m sure Morrissey, amongst others, has had his fair share of great openers? Let the debate take place.


    • berglington said

      Prince’s Little Red Corvette is a favourite of mine:

      “I guess I should have known, by the way she parked her car sideways that it wouldn’t last.”

      As for books, I love the opener of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth:

      “She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.”

      Which brilliantly sets the tone for the oedipal rant to come. Well done Philip

  2. I agree – Morrisey most defintely saw/sees the importance of a killer first line. Some of my favourites.

    The rain falls hard on a humdrum town. This town has dragged you down.

    Where do his intentions lay? Or does he even have any?

    From the ice-age to the dole-age There is but one concern

    Punctured bicycle. On a hillside desolate. Will nature make a man of me yet?

    Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head

  3. copelington said

    I nominate the first verse of Babe You Turn Me On by Nick Cave:

    The butcher bird makes it’s noise
    And asks you to agree
    With it’s brutal nesting habits
    And it’s pointless savagery
    Now, the nightingale sings to you
    And raises up the ante
    I put one hand on your round ripe heart
    And the other down your panties

    Pure brilliance.

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