The 25 Best First Lines From Novels

The very first sentence of a novel is the first impression an author gets to make upon a reader, which is why we can sometimes agonize over it for days before writing a word. It has to entice the reader to come inside, sit a spell, and invest some time in your carefully crafted tale.

Graphic artists would argue it’s the cover they design for you, but that comes way after the novel is written. Every writer will tell you that first sentence is the true challenge. So, when we read a great first sentence in someone else’s novel, we are inspired (and possibly jealous).

Here are twenty-five awe-inspiring and envy-evoking first sentences that may even get you reading a novel you’ve never opened before.

25. “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”—Samuel Beckett, Murphy

24. “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.” —Franz Kafka, The Trial

23. “A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” —Graham Greene, The End of the Affair

22. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” —William Gibson, Neuromancer

21. “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”—Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

20. “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

19. “Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue.” —Ronald Sukenick, Blown Away

18. “I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.” —Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome

17. “The moment one learns English, complications set in.” —Felipe Alfau, Chromos

16. “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”—C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

15. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

14. “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.” —Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

13. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” —George Orwell, 1984

12. “It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.” —Paul Auster, City of Glass

11. “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.” —Anita Brookner, The Debut

10. “All this happened, more or less.” —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

9. “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress.” —George Eliot, Middlemarch

8. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” —L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

7. “Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I’ve come to learn, is women.” —Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

6. “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

5. “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

4. “You better not never tell nobody but God.” —Alice Walker, The Color Purple

3. “‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.” —Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond

2. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” —Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

And from the most disturbing, yet most beautifully written novel: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

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