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10 extraordinary opening lines from novels

Written by Akshita Rawat

The first line of a novel plays a very important role and is thus carefully crafted. It either captivates the reader and ignites the curiosity and raises questions, or is used to judge a book’s worth. Although a novel’s credibility cannot solely be judged by its opening lines, as it is said do not judge a book by its cover or in this case by its first line.

Here is a list of extraordinary opening lines, in no particular order, from novels that are equally extraordinary.


  1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”janeausten9780141439518 This line from Victorian Age’s most acclaimed female author Jane Austen’s most popular novel and a classic, Pride and Prejudice, captures one of the main themes of the novel, marriage.


  1. “The summer of 1947 was not like other Indian summers. Even the weather had a different feel in India that year.”khushwant_singh_AFP_360x270train_to_pakistan_th_anniversary_edition_with_partition_idg406

This line, from Khushwant Singh’s A Train to Pakistan with its sinister undertone that captures the horrors that await in the course of the novel.     


3. “Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress”George_Eliot_at_30_by_François_D'Albert_Durade51U8+NuoyQL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_
The line is from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, originally published in eight instalments. From one of England’s finest writers, Middlemarch is seen as a work of genius; rich in irony, character, and narrative.


 4.“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.”Dickens_Gurney_heada-tale-of-two-cities-book-coverOne of the most quoted first lines from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; yet another classic.


  1. “Mother, today there comes back to mind the vermillion mark at the parting of your hair, the sari which you used to wear, with its wide red border, and those wonderful eyes of yours, full of depth and peace.  They came at the start of my life’s journey, like the first streak of dawn, giving me gold provision to carry me on my way.”tagore174216These lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s The Home and the World, perfectly capture the beauty of a mother, giving a great start to a story set in the backdrop of Swadeshi Movement. One cannot help but think about one’s own mother.


6.“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.”vladimirnabokov51PuM6CU2GL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_First published in 1955, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is considered a classic. Written from the perspective of a “detestable villain”, it is the story of a middle-aged man who falls head over heels for a 12-year-old girl. Often misinterpreted as obscene, the book is nothing of that sort, but rather a definite masterpiece.


  1. “Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami128029khaledhosseini

An instant eye-catching line from A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; and at the same time raises concern, as what is supposed to follow is the story of two girls Mariam and Laila, from childhood to the point of life at which they cross paths. Released in 2007, this is Khaled Hosseini’s second novel, and indeed a heartrending tale.  


  1. ‘“To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”’Salman Rushdie (India/USA), photographed April 26, 2007, New York, New York. © Beowulf Sheehan/PEN American Center/Opale51bgaSsivQL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_

Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie’s most acclaimed and highly controversial novel which lead to protests by the Muslim community and even threats to his life and was ultimately banned in India.    


  1. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”Anna-Kareninaleo-tolstoy-portrait

A highly quoted line from Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy’s classic about unrequited love, Anna Karenina.


  1. “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”Marquez91ufhytirkl__sl1500_4

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is an entrancing tale, originally published in Spanish, circling around the life of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza.


If you agree with our list, or if you don’t, tell us in the comments section below.

So, what’s you favourite opening line?

About the author

Akshita Rawat

I am pursuing English Honours from DCAC. I love reading, occasionally enjoy

painting and a fan of supernatural movies as well as TV shows.

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