Thursday, October 23, 2008

Unforgettable Firsts

I am reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett for one of my bookclubs.  (I am only in two.)  I was struck by the first line of the book:

"When the lights went off, the accompanist kissed her."

What a great first line.  It leads to all sorts of questions.  

"Kissed who?"

"Why did the lights go off?"

"Did he kiss her because the lights went off?"

Immediately you want answers to your questions.  That line draws you in.

It reminded me of another one of my favorite first lines from Charles Williams' War in Heaven:

"The telephone bell was ringing wildly, but without result, since there was no-one in the room except the corpse."

You get a picture in your head right away of this scene and again, it raises questions and draws you in to the story.  It also made me want to answer that phone!

There are some very famous first lines in novels:

"Call me Ishmael."

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

Anyone have trouble connecting those first lines with the novels they come from?  I didn't think so.

This first line rumination got me, well, ruminating some more...

What are some of your favorite first lines in novels, short stories, non-fiction?


ModernMommy said...


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gretchen from lifenut said...

From Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

planetnomad said...

(Tried this earlier but Blogger was down. Here we go again)

I have another from GGM too. That man was a genius for first lines. This one is from Love in the Time of Cholera:
It was inevitable. The scent of bitter almonds reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

Love that first line of Bel Canto. Is the rest of the book living up to the beginning?

Mary-LUE said...


Bel Canto is definitely living up to that first line. It is a little fragmented at first, but very lyrical, I guess is the word. I'm finding myself having very strong reactions to this. Good ones. Laughing, Aw-ing, etc. When I'm done, I'll let you know my final judgment.

Mel said...


I can't remember the names of characters in the book I'm reading!

Opening lines?!

I think I'm in need of some serious help.....LOL

Subspace Beacon said...

Ah. A Jane Austen reference. A nod to Mr Darcy. I feel a swoon coming on.