What's Your Favourite Opening To A Novel?

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What's Your Favourite Opening To A Novel?
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. I'm stupid about executions. The idea of being executed makes me sick, and that's all there was to read about in the papers - goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty peanut-smelling mouth of every subway. It had nothing to do with me, but I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive all along your nerves.
I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.
New York was bad enough. By nine in the morning, the fake country-wet freshness, that somehow seeped in overnight evaporated like the tail end of a sweet dream. Mirage-gray at the bottom of their granite canyons, the hot streets wavered in the sun, the car tops sizzled and glittered, and the dry, cindery dust blew into my eyes and down my throat.

The opening to H. G. Wells  'War Of The Worlds'.

"No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same. No one gave a thought to the older worlds of space as sources of human danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of life upon them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most, terrestrial men fancied there might be other men upon Mars, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us".

Its hard for me to read it now without hearing Richard Burtons voice or Jeff Wayne's music but I like the way its told with detachment, looking backwards through the distance of time, almost mirroring the detachment of the Martians looking down at Earth and its such an ominous beginning, like something looming, that really sets you up for all the catastrophic events that follow.

Charles Dickens came up with a few great opening lines:

A Tale Of Two Cities -
“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.”

A Christmas Carol -

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge's name was good upon 'Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail

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"

I've always liked the opening of 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland' by Lewis Carroll:

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,' thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?".

This is perhaps just me but I also like the opening to 'Far From The Madding Crowd' by Thomas Hardy:

"WHEN Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun."

I also wanted to mention the first line of Genesis from the King James Bible because I'm pretty sure it invented the snappy opening line:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light".

Not sure if you could call The Bible a novel but its a long work of prose divided into chapters.

It's hot as hell in Martirio - Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

Simple, direct, enough to hook me in. Where's Martirio, no idea -  later I learn it's Texas near the Mexican border right now I  know that I don't - sounds smalltown and it's hot. I love this book IMO it's one of the very few that deserved the Booker. The title's good too.

A tie between Stephen King's "The Shining" - Officious prick - and Richard Adams's "Watership Down" - The primroses were over.

People usually start life by being born. Not me though.[Walter Moers, the 13 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear]


Context is everything. Dress me up and see. I'm a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. [Jonathan Lethem, Motherless Brooklyn]


In idle moments I sometimes like to close my eyes and imagine Joesph Goebbels' forty-third birthday party. I like to think that even in the busy autumn of 1940, Hitler might have found time to organise a surprise party for his close friend [Ned Beauman, Boxer Beetle]