First lines

Countless and precious childhood memories of mine involve my mother and a bookstore. If you are going to indulge your children, it is always a good and sneaky idea to better some brain cells at the same time and my mom knows that that better than most.

She has a trick I adore for picking out new books: analyse the first sentence. You can learn a lot from a first line in a book – what is the tone? do you like the voice? are you already curious? are you already bored? is it cheesy? or are you hooked?

Sometimes you can literally (haha) get sucked in by a book from the very first line.

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

Oh, Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, how I loved reading you. The first line is heartbreaking as is the entire book, but it is the kind of colonial Caribbean heartbreak that everyone should read once in their lives. The detail literally jumps off the pages – the fact that our protagonist Florentino notices unrequited love in something as banal and repetitive as the scent of bitter almonds is a preview of the detail reflected in the rest of the novel. 

“The village of Holcolmb stands on the high wheat plains of Western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there’.” 

In Cold Blood was another favorite read, by Truman CapoteHorrifying and incredibly readable, Capote created a new genre of writing with this book and the first line captures this. The book is non-fiction, but a novel at the same time. The fact that Kansans call Holcolm ‘out there’ is reflective of the countless interviews Capote undertook to get to the heart of the murder case that would come to consume him. The fact that the town is ‘lonesome’ is reflective of Capote himself by the time he finished writing. It is a genius first line that is even more powerful after you have finished the book.

“Then there was the bad weather.” 

A Moveable Feast is another favorite, by Ernst HemingwayIt feels like you are entering into the middle of a rant – one that both loves and hates its subject. For anyone who has lived in Paris, this is quite reflective of the city. Moving to Paris feels like you are moving into the middle of a story that has been taking place for a very. long. time. No matter how hard you try, the city always has a step up on you. But that is part of its charm. And this book is charmingly and lovingly accurate.

(Note for the Brussels crowd: You can take comfort in the fact that bad weather in Paris still doesn’t come close to bad weather in Brussels.)

“One night in the middle of June, three brokenhearted people walked into Buena Vista Park at nearly the same time, just after dark.” 

How great is that? Why are they heartbroken? Why are they walking into a park if they are heartbroken? Just after dark sounds a bit ominous, doesn’t it? I am already hooked on The Great Night by Chris Adrian.

Do you have any favorite first lines?

(This post may or not have been inspired by my latest online obsession: Goodreads.)  

  1. A Tale of Two Cities said:

    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 – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

  2. Leaving comment – take two!

    Now I have to remember what I said. It went something like this: Thank you for stopping by at my blog today. I’m glad to have found yours. I see that you live in Brussels and I’m someone who just moved from Antwerp to Luxembourg after living in Antwerp for two years.

    First sentence of a book you say (by the way, I think your mother is on to something here!). How about “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” Clichéd? Nah, I don’t think so. I love the words of Virginia Woolf.

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    • Success! The world really is a tiny place. Hope you enjoy Luxembourg – Antwerp is a great city and where we Brussels-folk escape to when we need some high fashion and fancy restaurants.

      EXCELLENT first line from Virginia Woolf. I rarely believe in cliches 🙂 Like tourists spots, they are usually popular for a reason.

      Have a great weekend and looking forward to being in touch.

  3. Tatiana said:

    I just read a fun book, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and it has a great first line : “The circus arrives without warning.” – how can no one hear it? surely a circus needs to announce where it will be next? intrigued? so was I.

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