Wednesday, 13 April 2011

A Truth Universally Acknowledged

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

When you read that first line you immediately know who wrote it and what book it hails from. Yes folks, first lines are as enigmatic as a woman's purse; as imponderable as Paris Hilton's IQ and as inspiring as a sun-kissed morning. It takes skill to create a good one, but far more so is what it says about the novel: its concept and voice. 

My most favorite first line of all time comes from the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude: 

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

That is the most touching and heart pounding first line EVER! It evokes so many questions while immediately capturing our hearts; this man is about to die and all he could think of was the day his father took him to find ice. We feel for Aureliano even though we have no clue exactly why he is about to be killed. So...what do we do...? Read, of course. And that's the magic of this opening. It. Makes. You. Want. To. Read. More.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a great first line hooks more readers than a blurb or cover art. 

I can't wait to read the next great one that will make me all a flutter.

What's your favorite first line EVER?


Andrew Leon said...

I'm probably in the Dickens camp with "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." And I haven't even read that book.

However, "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" runs a close second.

Michael Offutt said...

Dangit. Andrew stole my favorite first line. So I'm going to be different and go with the one in William Gibson's "Neuromancer". It is:

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

It really set the mood for the entire book for me and makes "Neuromancer" the last great science-fiction book I've read (I've read others since then but they've all been garbage). And that's seriously over fifteen years ago. I dare anyone to name one profound piece of science-fiction that has come out in the last fifteen years that has been on the level of "Neuromancer" (written in the eighties).

CBame13 said...

"The scent of wood smoke and roses always took him back there, the boy he was and never would be again"

Andrew Leon said...

Well, this is coming in just at your 15 year wire, but The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell far surpasses Neuromancer, in my opinion. It's not the same kind of sci-fi, though. The sci-fi is the vehicle for telling the story, not the story itself. As it should be.

There's also American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I wasn't thinking of this as sci-fi, but it did when the Nebula in '02.

Michael Offutt said...

Okay, I'm going to have to check out American Gods. But just because something wins an award doesn't make it good in my opinion. Take Ender's Game...I don't think it's a good book for many reasons (mostly the allegorical bigotry which I won't go into here). If you want to know in detail, hit me up in an email and I'll tell you why I hate that book.

Andrew Leon said...

No, I'm not saying it's good because it won the award. It's a book I like which I wouldn't have listed except that it got the Nebula. However, I think the non-sequel, Anansi Boys, was actually better.

I enjoyed Ender's Game, over all; my only issue with it was that I figured out the twist well before the end of the book. Takes some of the punch out of it.

T.D. McFrost said...

Ooo such a great discussion this topic has evolved into. I've read Enders Game and loved it. I've never heard of Neuromancer before Andrew, but I will Google it.

I also liked the opening line of Harry Potter. I found it to be juxtaposed to what the book is actually about and that was spectacular!

Barbara Kloss said...

You stole my favorite first line! (Jane Austen's P&P)

Love your blog, btw :)

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