What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?
“It was a dark and stormy night….”
Okay, just kidding. My actual favorite first sentence, currently, is from Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which is, “Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”
It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the book, which is written in the same wry, matter-of-fact style. In the world of the novel, everyone takes for granted that magic exists (or did exist), and prominent English magicians from the past are just as well-known and revered as prominent literary figures. In an unusual twist, the novel actually has numerous footnotes, which are just as entertaining to read as the rest of the book.
Speaking of dark and stormy nights, “It was a dark and stormy night,” is the actual beginning of the novel Paul Clifford by British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton. The full sentence is:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is named after him, in which entrants attempt to write the worst possible opening sentence to an imaginary novel.
Also of interest may be TwitterLit, which is a site that publishes the first sentence of a novel, without the name of the novel or the author, twice a day, with a link to the novel on Amazon.com.