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"It was the day my grandmother exploded."

Isn't that a great first line of a novel? Welcome to today's blog topic: great first sentences in literature. This idea came to me today when I was desperately trying to enliven something I'm writing about monetary policy. A topic that desperately needs a jolt -- or 10 -- of colour. That will never happen, alas.

But, just for my own amusement, I thought I'd play around with the most wonderful, perfect opening sentence, from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Then, I thought, put a monetary policy twist to it. But I knew it would never stand, so I gave up my little dream.

However, in Googling to find the quotation to get the wording right, I came across a collection of first sentences in literature from what seems to be a New Zealand website: Bookclub.co.nz.

It has pulled together a wonderful collection, some old favourites ("It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ....." A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens) and some new, and hilarious. Take this opening sentence, which would certainly pull me into this novel:

"On the third day of their honeymoon, infamous environmental activist Stewie Woods and his new bride Annabel Bellotti were spiking trees in the forest when a cow exploded and blew them up. Until then, their marriage had been happy."
C.J. Box
Savage Run

I also laughed aloud at this sentence; I had read this novel years ago and now want to go back and re-read:

"I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Harbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign."
Barbara Kingsolver
The Bean Trees

Anyway, here are just a few others for our general amusement. Isn't literature wonderful?

"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person."
Anne Tyler
Back When we Were Grownups

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last..."
Ahab's Wife

"My mother was a virgin, trust me..."
Kate Atkinson
Emotionally Weird

"They're all dead now."
Ann-Marie MacDonald
Fall on Your Knees

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me".
Daphne du Maurier

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."
The Lovely Bones
Alice Sebold

"It was the day my grandmother exploded."
Iain Banks
The Crow Road

Comments (7)


When I'm looking for books to buy, first I read the inside flap and then I read the first sentence. Good first sentence, I buy the book. Those are some good ones.

Sandra!! I love your blog. Have you ever seen Parenti Serpenti? I think it is by Benvenuti. I won't give away the plot it is a sidesplitting comedy of a family in Tuscany.

Your "granmother blowing up" made me think of it.


Excellent topic. The opening of A Tale of Two Cities always pulls me in. That line from The Crow Road, however, is new to me - I love it!


Thanks Angie -- I'm definitely going to look for Parenti Serpenti; it sounds great!

Kim, I think a good first line IS a good way to know if you're going to be hooked by the book. Like a good lede on a news story....

Anne, that first line from Crow Road does intrigue. I think I'm going to take a closer look at it on Amazon.

Such a great topic! I hope you don't mind but I decided to steal it too. It was a lot of fun!


Annie, I think of it as sharing; we all get ideas from each other!

I agree with you completely about "To Kill a Mockingbird" - I always prefer the book to the movie with the exception of that one. Gregory Peck was just perfect!

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