Great Openers

These favorite opening lines were originally collected by book clubs in New Zealand:


Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups


Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last…

Sena Jeter Naslund, Ahab’s Wife


My mother was a virgin, trust me…

Kate Atkinson, Emotionally Weird


Helen woke up in the middle of the night wearing someone else’s breasts. Not her own insignificant, almost nonexistent bumps, but huge pendulous, full ones.

Barbara Hodgson, The Sensualist


In the time it took for a bullet to travel through her left ear and into the back wall of the donut shop on the corner of Ellis and Polk, Lena McLeonard remembered her past.

Sarah Quigley, Shot


This is the story of Achilles’ rage.

Homer, The Iliad


For a man of his age, 52, divorced,he has,to his mind solved the problem of sex rather well.

J M Coetzee, Disgrace


My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister, Margaret, dead and gone.

Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes


In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It


The Axe Boy lived downstairs.

Jonathan Carroll, Bones of the Moon


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


All children, except one, grow up.

J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan


Life is difficult.

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled


Eunice Parchman killed the Coverdale family because she could not read or write.

Ruth Rendell, A Judgment in Stone


What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? That she was beautiful. And Brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.

Erich Segal, Love Story


It is not easy for me to leave the present behind and to immerse myself in the past in order to understand my life in all its strangeness.

Leni Riefenstahl, A Memoir


Something a little strange, that’s what you notice, that she’s not a woman like all the others.

Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman


Black is a shade of brown. So is white, if you look. On Copacabana, the mostdemocratic, crowded, and dangerous of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches, all colors merge into one joyous, sun-tanned flesh-color, coating the sand with a second, living skin.

John Updike, Brazil


Getting through the night is becoming harder and harder. Last evening, I had the uneasy feeling that some men were trying to break into my room to shampoo me.

Woody Allen, Without Feathers


Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy


The small boys came early to the hanging.

The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett



Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall on Your Knees


The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. 

Stephen King, The Gunslinger


The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Samuel Beckett, Murphy


There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.

C S Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader


ON THE THIRD DAY OF THEIR HONEYMOON, infamous environmental activist Stewie Woods and his new bride Annabel Bellotti were spiking trees in the forest when a cow exploded and blew them up. Until then, their marriage had been happy.

C. J. Box, Savage Run


I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Harbine’s father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees


I wanted a neat bullet hole and no more than a trickle of blood. It fitted with my notions of politeness if not with my understanding of death.

Maurice Gee, The Scornful Moon


It was a pleasure to burn.

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


Call me Ishmael.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick


Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita


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 Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude


The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.

L P Hartley, The Go-Between


Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.

Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca


I tell you. I fell in love with a tree. I couldn’t not. It was in blossom.

Ali Smith, May, a story in her collection The Whole Story & Other Stories


They shoot the white girl first.

Toni Morrison, Paradise


Here we are, alone again.

Celine, Death on the Installment Plan


I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining-board.

Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle


Before they reached the river, the horses had grown used to the corpse.

Cecelia Holland, The Death of Attila.


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


Take my camel, dear, said Aunt Dot as she climbed down from the animal on her return from High Mass.

Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond


‘I should’ve been a nun,’ he says, as his feet leave the ledge.

Dale McGowan, Calling Bernadette’s Bluff


My mother died today, or perhaps it was yesterday.

Albert Camus, L’etranger (The Stranger)


It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell, 1984


As I was born the umbilical cord tangled around my neck and I came into the world both arms flailing, unable to scream and thereby take in the air necessary to begin life outside of the womb, being garroted by the very thing that had until that time succored me and given me life.

Richard Flanagan, Death of a River Guide


My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.

Alice Sebold, The Lovely Bones


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.

JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit


At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.

Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees


If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye


My female friends had told me that giving birth was like shitting a water melon. They lied. It’s like excreting a block of flats – complete with patios, awnings, clothes-lines, television aerials, satellite dishes, backyard barbecues, kidney-shaped swimming pools, gazebos and double garage extensions with the cars parked outside.’

Kathy Lette, Foetal Attraction


Sir Walter Scott the Younger of Buccleugh was in church marrying his aunt the day the English killed his granny.

Dorothy Dunnett, Disorderly Knights


It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Iain Banks, The Crow Road