Is the beginning the end?

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The start of a novel can make or break a book for me. It has to grab my attention with the very first line. As everyone today, I am too time poor to hang around hoping the book will get better. Am I too harsh? If an author has not put everything into their opening sentence then where is the respect to the reader? But here lies the problem, what makes a good first sentence? Every reader has different taste and I know what I like and if the writing is good,  I’ll stick around and give the book a fighting chance.

I recently attended a talk by the author Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith discussed the importance of a great opening line. He then delighted us with one of his favourites from The Tower of Trebizond by Rose Maccauly.

“Take my camel dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

Has the reader curious. No?

My favourite is a little more subdued, from the master himself, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Whenever I read this I wonder whether Dickens sweated over every word, rearranging, rewriting, putting in a comma and then removing it again or was he hit by inspiration and it flowed in one sitting. Here it is, for your pleasure.

“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

My son wanted to add his favourite, it’s the opening line of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit

“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit”

What is your favourite opening sentence?

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18 thoughts on “Is the beginning the end?

  1. I have to admit, I can’t go past Ann Pearlman’s The Cookie Club opener of, ‘I am the head cookie bitch and this is my party.’ Mostly because I love the fact that a woman would call herself a cookie bitch. But I recently can across Timur Vermes’ Look Who’s Back, which starts, ‘It was the German people, the Volk, which surprised me most of all.’ How many questions does that raise? Brilliant!

  2. I love The Tale of Two Cities sentence, and like you often wonder how much effort Dickens had to put in to his work in general. He worked to such tight deadlines it’s hard to believe he had time for rewrites and edits, and somehow the words just flow – but so brilliantly it’s equally hard to believe they just came to him in a rush…

    Of course, my other favourite is Austen – ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

  3. My favorite is here – ‘EACH OF US IS BORN INTO GENIUS. Sadly, most of us die amid mediocrity. I hope it doesn’t upset you that I reveal this closely held belief so early in our brief time together. But I need to be honest.’ – from The Leader who had no Title.

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