Some Famous Opening Lines From Literature

A Cautionary Tale: Goodreads Catfish


Not open for further replies.


Full Member
Sep 25, 2014
The opener for Moby Dick; 'Call me Ishmael' is a personal favourite, though is it even his real name?
And the haunting opening line from L.P Hartley's 'The Go-Between', 'The Past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.'

See if any of your favourites are in here, flag them up, or flag them up if they aren't. The opening line is the hardest, and the line done last, I've found.
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 / Bell Jar
I was born in 1927, the only child of middle class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf, Queen Victoria.
Fowles / The Magus
At first golf was only a green shade protecting me from the gathering white heat of my mother’s death.
Hallberg / The Rub of the Green
My cut and paste is totally failing to work right now, but hopefully I'll be able to contribute actual quotes soon: the two that spring immediately to mind would be Rushdie's Midnight's Children (as I remember the entire opening section is wonderful), and One Hundred Days of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) - I think he manages in one sentence to reference someone about to get shot, discovering snow, and possibly something vaguely attached to the magical realism of the book. I remember it being a heck of an opening sentence and I was absolutely intrigued :)
'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 (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
May I stretch a point, and add an opening paragraph that’s been very much on my mind of late (for obvious reasons)?

This is from Mal Peet’s forthcoming MURDSTONE:

The sun sinks, leaving tatty furbelows of crimson cloud in the Dartmoor sky. From somewhere in the bracken tough invisible ponies huff and snicker. Final calls: rooks croaking homeward, a robin hoping for a last territorial dispute before bedtime. Voles scuttle to holes, their backs abristle with fear of Owl. It is early spring. Lambs plead for mothers. Below ground, badgers, ripe and rank with estrus, prepare themselves for the night’s business. A fox flames its ears and clears its throat.

It sets the scene for a florid, Technicolor-like descent into, well - Hades. On first glance, it’s almost banal. But in fact, expertly done.

Yes, it’s descriptive and scene-setting. But there’s an unreal, hyper-real quality to it that is just a touch unsettling. As well it might be...

I realize this will mean nothing to anyone else, yet. But I’ve had it on my mind a lot recently, and just wanted to share.
Doesn't look banal to me; I like it. On the basis of that opening, I'd certainly continue reading.....
Beautiful writing, spare use of three syllable words. It's painterly, it's 'Nature red in tooth and claw'. Landscape description is supposedly out. Egdon Heath etc. I don't see why. Places are personalities. Some places are haunted.
Not open for further replies.

A Cautionary Tale: Goodreads Catfish