The 20 Best Opening Lines From Books

It's all very well to get into a thick book with a slow burn, but the best books are the ones that grab you from the very first sentence. Here are MY favourite openers to books...
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First lines are crucial in any narrative, whether novels, films, novellas and especially short fiction. They are what decide whether you feel like reading or watching ahead, are gripped at the earliest stage possible and immediately engaged with the world of the narrative. Though I have read a fair few novels and watched a fair few films whose opening lines/scenes though not special or different, have lead on to narratives that I enjoyed. However you can never discount the impact of an opening, just as you can’t scoff at the need for a powerful, memorable ending. Here are a few of my favourites from all the books I have personally read. (In chronological order of book release)

1. 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 (1813).

2. 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 (1859).

3. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877).

4. You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly – Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

5. All children, except one, grow up – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1902).

6. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin – Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis (1915).

7. In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1937).


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8. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again – Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca (1938).

9. It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen – George Orwell, 1984 (1949).

10. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses the moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead – Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951).

11. When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventyfirst birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

12. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963).

13. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful – Roald Dahl, Matilda (1988).

14. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four Privet Drive were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997).

15. Mister Haneda was senior to Mister Omochi, who was senior to Mister Saito, who was senior to Miss Mori, who was senior to me. I was senior to no one – Amelie Nothomb, Fear and Trembling (1999).

16. I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind (2001).

17. There is no mystery to happiness – Jed Rubenfeld, The Interpretation of Murder (2006).

18. First the colours.

Then the humans.

That’s how I usually see things.

Or at least, how I try.


You are going to die.

- Markus Zusak, The Book Thief (2006).

19. A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins of a word of praise in exchange for a story … a writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel’s Game (2008).

20. Death is only the beginning; afterward comes the hard part – Jed Rubenfeld, The Death Instinct (2010).