A quote from Ursula Le Guin: “First sentences are the doors to other worlds.” In the hands of our best writers, opening lines can make you fall in love with the book right away, start the story off like a gun, set the tone, and even hint at what’s to come.
In this list, we’ve chosen 15 of the best first lines in fiction. In literature, there are so many great ways to start a story that there isn’t enough room for them all. It’s hard to forget these, though.
‘I am an invisible man’
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
Crisp, hidden, and claustrophobic. It’s one of the most well-known and well-known first lines. It grabs the reader’s attention like a slap in the face. He calls himself Ishmael, if that’s what his real name is. Who is this man, then?
‘I am a person who can’t be seen’
Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man, which is about a man who can’t be seen (1952)
Not just a famous opening line, but also one that is very mysterious and hard to figure out. Unnamed person: This is not Edgar Allan Poe or Hollwood invisibility. This is a man who isn’t noticed by the people around him. This is the start of one of the best novels of the 20th century.
‘The story so far: in the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move’
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (1980)
Do you read the newspaper? It’s hard not to agree with this line from Douglas Adams’ second book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. It comes from the second book. Whether you agree or not, it should still make you laugh.
‘Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure’
The Outsider by Albert Camus (1942)
So, it’s clear that someone has mummy problems, but what kind they are still unknown. If she dies, does he care or not at all? How can you tell? Mersault is our narrator, and he’s a wonderfully messed-up social misfit who can’t seem to fit in with society as he moves closer and closer to murder.
‘It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York’
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
So. Many. Questions. You have only read the first line. Esther Greenwood, a death-obsessed college student, turns out to be a far from happy person who is on the verge of having a meltdown. But you already knew that, right?
‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board’
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
One of the most important books written during the Harlem Renaissance has one of the best opening lines you’ll ever read. It’s also a great aphorism.
‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold’
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson (1971)
OK, so we know what this book is about. And he hasn’t just taken a few Nurofen after a few too many hours in the sun. It’s not like that at all. This is “a savage journey into the heart of the American dream.” It’s also a “demented love letter to paranoia, insanity, and superhuman levels of drug abuse.”
‘You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy’
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
People who are abusive to their kids say these words to their kids. This first line is one of the most sinister and haunting in all of literature. If you read the rest of Walker’s work, you won’t be able to forget this one either!
‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen’
1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Nobody knows for sure what will happen in Orwell’s future dystopia. So, even time itself can be changed if the government has taken over the religion of God. It’s a haunting message that sets a spooky tone for the best book of the 20th century.
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
It’s not the first time someone has set out their stall right away. Jane Austen’s best-known work is a story mostly about single men, good fortunes, and women who want to be married. Almost.
‘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’
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)
This first line is both technical and stylistic. It lays out the scene, character, and plot, and it also sets the tone for dark humor right away. You know you’re going to have a lot of fun when you read “murder myster in reverse” by Tartt.
‘The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.’
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (1993)
Ten words in, and you haven’t gone anywhere. The language, of course, is difficult, visceral, and hard to understand. Is it even a language? And why is “Sick Boy” shaking? Just keep reading, and you’ll be plunged into a world of strained friendships, heroin needles, and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies.
‘124 was spiteful. Full of Baby’s venom’
Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)
On its own, this mix of words and numbers looks more like a scary Japanese haiku than an interesting mix of words and numbers. However, when we learn Sethe’s house is called 124 in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, we start to get very nervous. This is because we know that Sethe’s house is haunted by her dead baby.
‘As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect’
Metamorphosisby Franz Kafka (1915)
Franz Kafka’s most famous short story is already in the first line. Man turns into a cockroach, and things go downhill from there.
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1948)
Among bookworms, this is their favorite line, and it’s one of the most well-known ones in the world. A 17-year-old girl who lives with her sister, an art model stepmother, and a father who can’t write is our heroine, Cassandra. It tells us everything we need to know about Cassandra, our spirited but bored heroine.