There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. Great opening sentences…

Great opening lines.

As part of a monthly meme by the Classics Club we were asked about what are our favourite or most memorable opening lines.  I must admit that I immediately thought of  Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’  Of course this line is really memorable and the lovely Jessica from Bookwork Chronicles had bagged it!  No surprise that this would make the list.  This got me to thinking about great opening lines and how much of an impact they have.  I certainly don’t think I would be put off reading a book if the opening line didn’t pack a punch but I wonder if it does make a difference to how you think about the book.  My choice for the classics has to be:

‘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.  Spot on if you ask me!

In terms of other great openers Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book grabs your attention immediately. ‘There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife’.  You couldn’t stop reading after that could you?

I’ve picked ten openers, or more to the point I’ve thought about ten books that I love and taken a look at how they start:

  1. ‘My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip.’ Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.  This is a favourite.  Is this opener fantastic.  Probably not.  Does it make me like the book less.  Definitely not.
  2. ”My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie.’  The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I really loved this book and I think this is a great opener – ‘my name was Salmon’ – ‘was’ being the word that immediately draws your attention!
  3. ‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day’.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  This is another one of my favourite books and yet I wouldn’t say the opening line really grabs me having taken a fresh look.  Did it stop me reading or picking up and reading again.  No.
  4. ‘It was night again.  The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.’  I had to cheat again here.  This is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  I think this is a good opener – it makes me want to know what the three parts of silence are.  You?  Course I do love this book so my judgement might be a bit skewed!
  5. ‘At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.’  The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  Another great book – that opening line is a bit of a mouthful (or a mindful).  You pretty much know that you’re into the world of fantasy straight from the get go.
  6. ‘Ravens!  Always the ravens.  They settled on the gables of the church even before the injured became the dead.’  Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence.  I cheated again (this is becoming a habit).  Fantastic book.  I think I detect a theme of liking sentences that are short and punchy.
  7. ‘On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back.’  I am Legend by Richard Matheson.  This is a great opener I think – who are ‘they’ – you have to read on and find out!
  8. ‘When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced  that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.’  Needs no introduction.  No really!  If you don’t know what this book is then (1) WTF (2) Are you serious; and (c) get out of that black hole and read LoTR now!  Ok it’s probably not got the same hook as some but Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is such a great book it couldn’t miss the list.  You straight away get the feeling of a story well told.  Put on your slippers and settle down in a comfy chair to read (a glass of nice red wouldn’t go amiss either).
  9. ‘Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day.’  A beautiful and whimsical opening by Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making.
  10. ‘The Children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do.’  This has a definite hook.  Did it make you want to read?  if so – Wool by Hugh Howie

I’ve told you mine now tell me yours – just your favourite (you don’t have to go all out and find 10)

39 Responses to “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife. Great opening sentences…”

  1. jenclairj

    I like yours! It would take me too long to create my own list, but I need to begin keeping track of great openers in my current reading.

    • lynnsbooks

      The really surprising thing about this is that quite a few of your favourite books turn out to have really ‘meh’ openers. Like I said, they’re still favourites – but there definitely is something about a memorable first line – for example, Rebecca – and I wonder whether that actually exaggerates the feeling of enjoyment and nostalgia that you feel for the book.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Jason

    Cant go wrong with Pride and Prejudice. One of the few books that I found disappointing on a first reading but after reading it a few more times it is now one of my all time favorites.

    • lynnsbooks

      Hah, that’s interesting that you didn’t like this on first reading – was there a reason why you gave it another shot?? Have you read Austen’s other works? I’ve read all her books a couple of times and really enjoyed them – but I think that’s because they always feel like light entertainment I know they’re classics but for me they have a feeling of chick lit for the times! I hope I’ve not put you off by saying that! I certainly don’t mean to be disparaging because, as I said, I really enjoy all her books but when you look at the subject matter they were basically stories of young girls falling in love, usually against the odds.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Maud

    Anna Karenina’a is one of my favorites but I also love Carson MacCullers’s in Clock Without Hands : “Death is always the same, but each man dies in his own way. For J.T. Malone it began in such a simple ordinary way that for a time he confused the end of life with the beginning of a new season.”

    • lynnsbooks

      I actually haven’t read Anna Karenina yet but I will do eventually. I used to read a lot of classics (mainly because they were all readily available on my dad’s shelves) but I’ve moved away from them a little in later years that’s why I joined in with the Classics Club with my list of 50.
      Lynn 😀

  4. jessicabookworm

    Thank for the mention Lynn 🙂 I love your twist on this meme.

    • lynnsbooks

      I quite enjoyed looking at the start of some of my favourite books – and quite revealing in that some of my favourites had quite bland openings – still didn’t stop me loving them though.
      Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        I suppose that shows that the opening line isn’t the be-all and end-all of a novel, but they do make for an interesting discussing.

      • lynnsbooks

        Yes, they do. Perhaps another discussion would be good starter vs good end.
        Lynn 😀

      • jessicabookworm

        I think that could be really interesting.

  5. Marie

    I’ve just read Wool and that opener does stick in your head, it’s so intriguing. Have to admit to never having read LOTR though! Sorry!

    • lynnsbooks

      Ha, I shouldn’t be so over the top about LoTR – it’s simply not everyone’s cup of tea. Did you enjoy Wool?
      Lynn 😀

  6. Genki Jason

    I can’t remember any first lines from any novels I’ve read apart from Pride and Prejudice (which I studied at Uni).

    • lynnsbooks

      I must confess that apart from The Hobbit, LoTR and Rebecca I had to look up the beginnings of the others. I decided to treat it differently. Pick up ten books that I really like and see if the opening sentence was a hook. I must confess it wasn’t always the case but it didn’t apparently stop me from reading. I suppose you can get away with an easy to forget beginning but not an easy to forget conclusion!.
      (So, anyway, what did you make of Pride and Prejudice – and it’s first line).
      Lynn 😀

      • Genki Jason

        I really liked the book and the first line is very memorable. I remember being surprised at how much I got from the story and how much I liked the characters. The opening line is a classic. 🙂

        I keep remember this part of 1Q84:

        It’s a Barnum and Bailey world,
        Just as phony as it can be,
        But it wouldn’t be make believe
        If you believed in me.

      • lynnsbooks

        I love that – I really must read some Murakami! Soon!!
        Lynn 😀

  7. Two Dudes in an Attic

    The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
    Spot that book? A cliche answer, I suppose, but one that stays with me. There’s probably tons more, but I’m not in a position to poke around for them.

    • Two Dudes in an Attic

      And I realize this isn’t a “classic,” but maybe I’ll be forgiven.

      • darkcargo

        YAY! I’m so glad someone noted this one. Personally, I think it’s the best opening line in the English language, but I’ve been known to be judgy about Neuromancer. You should give it a go, Lynn. It really is the best in cyberpunk, and wonderful in its own right. Besides which, I’d throw it in the Classics pile for lots of reasons.

      • lynnsbooks

        Well, that’s two recommendations so maybe I should change my classics list – I must admit that I’ve put Dangerous Liaisons down and don’t seem to be too eager to pick it back up for some reason!
        Lynn 😀

    • lynnsbooks

      Oh no, I don’t know what this is!! Maybe you should give me another clue.
      Lynn 😀

      • Two Dudes in an Attic

        I’m pretty sure you know if you’d read it, but judging from your A to Z list, this particular subgenre might not be your thing. :d It’s the opening to Neuromancer.

      • lynnsbooks

        Nope, I’ve not read this – I’ve been trying to pick up more sci-fi – usually either for Stainless Steel Droppings Sci Fi Experience or Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage sci fi. I went and had a look at this – seems to be very well thought of – did you enjoy it?
        Lynn 😀

  8. Carol

    You’ve made me want to go look at the first sentences of my favorites. It’s a shame I don’t know if I have copies of all them. I’ll have to check.

    • lynnsbooks

      Well, I just went on Amazon and looked inside the books I picked – it was easier than finding the books on the shelves to be honest!
      Lynn 😀

  9. Two Dudes in an Attic

    Hmm, I’m unable to reply to your reply to my reply….. I have a deep, burning love for cyberpunk. I’m sure most of it is a generational thing, me being a computer nerd who grew up in the late 80s – early 90s and all, but William Gibson is just brilliant all around. Apparently not everyone feels the same as I do, but they should.

    • lynnsbooks

      Lol. And apparently this is the inspiration for Matrix? I confess it’s the first time I’ve heard of Gibson (I probably shouldn’t admit that, but, hey). I do seem to read quite a bit of fantasy these days but I’m trying to broaden my horizons.
      Lynn 😀

  10. TBM

    I love that line from Gaiman. As soon as I read it, I wanted to read the book again!

    • lynnsbooks

      It is a top opener! Plus, who am I kidding, I’m always ready to read Gaiman.
      Lynn 😀

  11. Genki Jason

    Here’s an opening I like “I was travelling alone, no destination in mind.” – Banana Yoshimoto Hardboiled.

    • lynnsbooks

      I like that – so why did the person have no destination in mind? Maybe incredibly chilled out? and Why alone?? You see, now this has a definite hook!
      Lynn 😀

      • Genki Jason

        It totally works and the rest of the story builds up nicely from there and goes in quite surprising directions. I borrowed the book from my library and now I’m going to purchase my own copy.

      • lynnsbooks

        Sounds good. That’s what I quite often do. Library first until I know if I’m going to like the book – I do like to own the books that I’ve really enjoyed.
        Lynn 😀

  12. cherylmahoney

    Whew, great survey of opening lines! It’s funny how some books are so obviously wonderful right from the outset and others…not so much. Jane Eyre–I LOVE that book, but no, that’s not a grabber opening line…

    My favorite has to be “All children, except one, grow up.”

  13. “Tomorrow, I’ll think of some way to get him back… | Lynn's Book Blog

    […] prompted by a question brought up by the Classics Club and it got me to thinking.  The results are here.  I think that what this made me see is that whilst some books really hook you from the first […]

  14. Tanya

    Love the post title. 😉
    The one opening line that immediately comes to mind apart from The Graveyard Book, which you’ve beaten me to? Mistborn. “Ash fell from the sky.”

    • lynnsbooks

      Top opening line – I never even thought of that. It’s difficult to come up with something though when you’re really trying! As soon as you post you start thinking of all the things you could have said or used! The Graveyard Book is brilliant though and the opening line is just so memorable.

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