It’s a truism of course, but a book shouldn’t grab you with its gaudy cover, or the hyperbolic praise of a Daily Mail critic emblazoned on the cover. It should capture you from the first line, when you plummet down the rabbit hole into a world furnished in the imagination of another. In the best examples, these lines become almost works in themselves, poetic recitations to demonstrate your allegiance to your favourite books. Jane Austen’s sardonic assessment of the 18th century marriage market is rightly famous, while the intimidating, verbal maze you plunge into from the first line of Joyce’s Ulysses may explain why it stands as one of the great unread classics. And then there is the extravagant vista opened by Anthony Burgess’ Of Earthly Powers – “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me” – surely the literary equivalent of a host flinging open the door, thrusting a glass of champagne into your hand and promising you the most florid and thrilling of parties.
Here at AnOther, we have been battling over our personal favourite first lines for a while now, but in honour of #WordWeek, they have been whittled down to just ten, alongside illustrations by the marvellous Clym Evernden.
"All children, except one, grow up."
Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie (1904)
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, (1938).
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1992)
"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York."
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath (1963)
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking 13."
1984, George Orwell (1949)
"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S Thompson (1971)
"For a long time I used to go to bed early."
Swann’s Way, Marcel Proust (1913)
"What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays."
The Twits, Roald Dahl (1980)
Text by Tish Wrigley