I recently read Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer’s novel Get a Life. Not the easiest book to read and probably worth a reread later. But what struck me was the unusual opening line: “Only the street-sweeper swishing his broom to collect fallen leaves from the gutter.”
Looking back after having finished the book, I realised what an amazing opening it is. It is like a haiku containing the very heart of the story in thirteen words (and three syllables more than a haiku) that do not even make a full sentence.
This prompted me to go on a very short stroll through some books at hand, looking for notable opening lines. I could probably have written an essay or a dissertation on my findings, but for now I will merely list a few, make some short remarks and hopefully inspire you to go on a word tasting trip of your own.
“Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.” E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
“’You too will marry a boy I choose,’ said Mrs. Rupa Mehra firmly to her younger daughter.” Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
“He belonged to that class of men – vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever – who were unaccountably attractive to certain women.” Ian McEwan, Solar
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” Cormack McCarthy, The Road
“Laden like a bowl of cherries, the ship of fools sits on the lawn of the sea.” Gregory Norminton, The Ship of Fools
“A man went to knock at the king’s door and said, Give me a boat.” José Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Ernest Hemmingway, The Old Man and the Sea