Books with Marvellous Opening Lines

There are many different ways to start a story. You can always go with the tried and true opening line of ‘Once upon a time’ and then have your story include a man who only recognises the love of his life by her shoe size. If you’re looking to be a bit edgier, you can shock the reader by placing them right smack in the middle of chase scene involving a dubious-looking man in a bowler hat.

Whatever the chosen route is, opening sentences hold a lot of weight, so we’ve amassed some of our favourites here:

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

“This is my favourite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

We’re sure people who’ve only seen the movie adaptation say something very similar to this line. Which, if you are such a person, shame on you. The Princess Bride happens to be one of our favourite books in all the world, though we have never read it.


The Crow Road by Iain Banks

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

Upon first glance, we read the line as in the grandmother literally exploded, gory bits and all. That, or she blew up like Aunt Marge in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Either way, the author keeps you reading in the hope that you’ll find out the fate of the unfortunately exploding grandmother.


Parlour Games by Mavis Cheek

“Let us first begin with the place in which Celia lived, and the house within which Celia lived within the place.”

A bit of a twister if you read it too fast. It is, however, quite intriguing. We’d be curious to read on and find out about the rooms within the house within which Celia lived within the place. Not to mention the parlour in which Celia hosts games within the house within which Celia lived within the place.


The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

To anyone reading this that is in fact named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, we do heartily apologize. Not for the fact that your name has been insulted, but for the fact that you’ve been saddled to go through life with such a burden. We’re sure you don’t deserve it.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

Because where else would you be writing. A desk? Much to ordinary. The kitchen table? Well, you could, but why on earth would you want to when you have a perfectly good kitchen sink in the same room.


Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

“There are, fortunately, very few people who can say that they have actually attended a murder.”

You might have attended a wedding or a funeral here and there, maybe even a football game or two. However, you’ve (hopefully, at least depending on your morbid interests) never attended a murder. That is, unless you’re prone to wearing trench coats, don hats that tend to shade your eyes, often have a pipe hanging from your lips, and pocket a magnifying glass before you leave your house every morning. Then maybe you have attended such an event.


A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

If you’re a sucker for sentences rife with antithesis, this opener is a goldmine. Charles Dickens must’ve had fun writing this, just going back and forth and back and forth before he sat back in his chair (or kitchen sink) and thought, this is the perfect start to a tale about two cities.


Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen by Jane Aiken Hodge

“When Jane Austen was born, a star danced.”

As avid Austen fans, we can only agree completely with such a statement. Not only did a star dance when she was born, but a few more stars gave a shimmy when she first penned Mr. Darcy’s character. True story.


Nobody’s Wife by Laura Pearson

“After the glasses had been emptied and discarded, lipstick smeared on their rims, after the polite chatter had stalled, and the well-worn stories had been told, the guests set off for home and just three remained.”

Laura Pearson can set a scene, there’s no doubt about that. If you are a bit of a neat-freak like us, it might be best not to linger too long on the amount of glasses lying around with various shades of red lipsticks sullying the usually pristine glasses. Don’t think about the washing that needs to be done. Focus on the three remaining guests who will most likely not be concentrated on something as mundane as cleaning.


A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”

Lemony Snicket sure knows how to set a mood. Or, alternatively, he knows how to turn people off from his book depending on your desire for a book without a happy ending. Is it any easier to read if you’re warned right from the start?


As always, thank you for reading and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN with your favourite opening lines!