‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Why do I love it: Every time I read this I can’t help hearing Joan Fontaine’s voice at the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock’s wonderful 1940 film version of Rebecca. I think she’s perfect as the unnamed second wife alongside Laurence Olivier as the mysterious Max, George Sanders as the caddish Jack Favell and Judith Anderson as the creepiest housekeeper ever, Mrs Danvers. It’s a great opening line because you know immediately the narrator is speaking about something that happened in the past. So it straightaway begs the question why can she only visit Manderley in her dreams? What is it about Manderley that makes her long to go back there? You’re hooked – at least, I am.
‘It was a pleasure to burn.’
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Why do I love it: It’s arresting. Burning things shouldn’t be a pleasure; it’s an activity associated with destruction. So why does our narrator take pleasure in it? What is being burned? Why? Already your mind is coming up with questions and it’s only the first sentence.
‘My name is Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered.’
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Why do I love it: Firstly, if you were named Susie Salmon don’t you think you’d be constantly explaining to people about your surname? So let’s get it over and done with in the first sentence. Then, whoa, you’ve been murdered. How is that possible because you’re telling us about it and you’re dead aren’t you? Straightaway you know the author has come up with something original, isn’t afraid to tell you from the off and probably knows she has already got you hook, line and sinker (see what I did there?).
(OK, technically this is two lines but let’s not quibble.)
‘The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.’
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Why do I love it: We’re straight into the story – no ifs, no buts. The book’s title told us there’d be a monster and here it is – it’s real and it’s turned up right from the off.. And, of course, everyone knows midnight is the time that monsters arrive…
(I know another two line example but you could argue it should have been a semi-colon not a full stop between the two phrases, couldn’t you?)
‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.’
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Why do I love it: Isn’t it obvious? You’ve just got to read on to find out more about Laura and what could have happened to make her do that. What has the timing of the ending of the war got to do with it? What has Laura’s death got to do with a ‘blind assassin’? Was Laura the ‘blind assassin’ or did the ‘blind assassin’ somehow bring about her death? The other brilliant thing about it is that it’s stated so matter-of-factly. As if it could have been, ‘Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura bought a cabbage for dinner.’
Do you have favourite opening lines of books? If so, do share…