Is it about having ‘readability’, that elusive, subjective concept that was so much talked about in selecting last year’s Booker Prize winner?
Or perhaps it all comes down to the opening lines, for that is where the author has to win over the reader, to interest and intrigue them sufficiently that they will want to see what happens next.
The Guardian recently published their list of The Top Ten First Lines in Fiction – we have others… Here are ten favourite opening lines or paragraphs, selected by Westminster Libraries staff. What have we missed? What are your favourite first lines?
- ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell.
- ‘I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.’
Inverted World, by Christopher Priest
- ‘No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own: that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.’
The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells
- ‘I come from Des Moines, Iowa. Someone had to.’
The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson
- ‘A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.’
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
- ‘It’s always a little startling to hear your name in a public place, and Vanderdecker froze. The beer in his glass didn’t, and the froth splashed his nose. He put the glass down and listened.’
Flying Dutch, by Tom Holt
- ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’
The Crow Road, by Iain Banks
- ‘It was a nice day.
All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn’t been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.’
Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
- ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’
The Go-between, by LP Hartley
- ‘It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory. Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy, or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling. Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head.’
Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch