The best opening lines in literature, ever

We take a look at the killer opening lines that got us hooked into our favourite books

The art of making an entrance isn’t an easy one. Many authors have failed at the first hurdle – the first page – which is what makes the books below that little bit special.

Truman Capote once said, ‘to me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.’ A truly great novel grabs you by the jugular with its first sentence, those words – its music – and never lets you go.

Which is why we’re here right now: to celebrate these words. The best opening lines in literature, ever…

Ready? Let’s go…

‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier (above)

‘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. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.’

‘Wolf Hall’, Hilary Mantel

‘”So now get up.”

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.’

‘The Great Gatsby’, F. Scott Fitzgerald

best opening lines in literature The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby

‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”’

‘The Catcher In The Rye’, J.D Salinger

best opening lines in literature the catcher in the rye

The Catcher In The Rye

‘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.’

‘Moby-Dick’, Herman Melville

‘Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.’

‘David Copperfield’, Charles Dickens

best opening lines in literature David Copperfield

David Copperfield

‘Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.’

‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, George Orwell

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

‘The Go-Between’, L. P. Hartley

The Go Between best opening lines in literature

The Go Between

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’

‘Love in the Time of Cholera’, Gabriel García Márquez

‘It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before.’

‘Peter Pan’, J. M. Barrie

Petrer Pan best opening lines in literature

Peter Pan

‘All children, except one, grow up.’

‘Slaughterhouse-Five’, Kurt Vonnegut

‘All this happened, more or less.’

‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’, Hunter S. Thompson

Fear and Loathing In

‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’

‘The Unnamable’, Samuel Beckett

‘Where now? Who now? When now?’

‘Lolita’, Vladimir Nabokov

best opening lines in literature Lolita


‘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. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.’

‘Goodbye To Berlin’, Christopher Isherwood

‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.’

And if you still want to dig a little deeper, why not find find out who the 8 best couples in literature are?

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