Friday Five: favourite first lines

A fistful of Fs for today’s title, and a fistful of first lines that have caught my attention, one way or another, over the years. In sort of reverse order, they are:

The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Not the most descriptive or earth-shattering opening to a book ever, but I love it for the sheer simplicity, and the way it draws you in, wanting to know what a hobbit is and why it would live in a hole. The next line, involving the “ends of worms and an oozy smell”, adds a touch of the dry humour that permeates the book, and marks it out as much more of a children’s read than the sequel Lord of the Rings.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” I like this one because it seems to sum up pretty much the whole of a very thick novel in that one first line, but without giving away the sheer detail of the main character Cal’s life story. It also sounds impossible, which is a great hook!

Gleams of a Remoter World by, er, me

“‘It was a dark and stormy night’? Pull the other one, Chris, we are not starting a report like that…” I’m totally cheating with this one since it’s my own, but I’ve always liked the idea of playing around with clichés and putting them to better, if slightly evil, use. When I read out the opening paragraph at a writers’ convention a few years ago it got a resounding cheer, and recently a friend told me it was still one of her favourites, so it must have made a good impression on someone!

The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

I’m not going to quote the whole first line here because it’s colossal, but it’s also really clever because it sets up a world that seems familiar yet oddly out-of-kilter at the same time, and draws you along with the book’s hero Dick deep into that world without you quite realising how different it is. I won’t reveal more in case it spoils the story, but it’s one of my favourite books ever and well worth trying if you’re not familiar with it.

The Crow Road by Iain M Banks

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Definitely the most original, engaging first line of any book I’ve ever read. It’s got drama, it’s got black humour, it’s got a massive punch of a hook… It’s just a shame that for me, the rest of the book failed to live up to this wonderful opening – although I realise I’m in a minority on that one. One of these days I’ll have to give it another go. The exploding grandma deserves a second chance!

So go on, what are some of your favourites? Are there any obvious ones I’ve missed? Feel free to add them in the comments – I’d love to hear.

 

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