This week The Romaniacs have been talking about opening lines and what makes a good one. Today here are favourite opening lines from Catherine, Vanessa, Sue and Liz.
‘The boy could smell the blood fifty yards away. It was a strong pungent odour that made him gag yet piqued his curiosity.’ – Sword of God, Chris Kuzneski. Like the boy, this piqued my curiosity, I wanted to know more. Kusneski’s opening lines are usually pretty grabbing and often involve death and set the tone for the rest of the book – suspense, mystery and murder.
‘If a road could look welcoming, then Summer Street had both arms out and the kettle boiling.’ – Past Secrets, Cathy Kelly. This one just reminds me of turning the corner into Borough Way when we used to visit my lovely Nan.
For me, it’s all about voice and character – it might not be the very first line, but if I get to the end of the first page and if I’m not in love with the writing, I don’t need to read on.
“They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother, ‘because she pretty like pretty self’ Christophine said.” – Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys In just a few lines, we learn so much about the characters we are going to follow in this story – always outsiders, neither one thing nor another. I prefer a happier ending to a book (have I mentioned that before??) so was reluctant about reading this, knowing Antoinette was going to end up as Mr Rochester’s mad wife, but the voice – that elusive voice – drew me right in.
“Jem was a joyful mystery to Alice. She was something to give thanks for. She had first appeared in the classroom, not at the beginning of term like a normal person, but mid-term on a Wednesday.” – Temples of Delight, Barbara Trapido I love how these lines tell us so much about this marvellous character that is Jem – but also so much about Alice.
“They said I was a drug addict. I found that hard to come to terms with – I was a middle-class, convent-educated girl whose drug use was strictly recreational. And surely drug addicts were thinner?” – Rachel’s Holiday, Marian Keyes I love the Walsh family, all of them such engaging characters, and this is my favourite Marian Keyes book – so funny and heartbreaking all at the same time.
For me it’s the hook, the elusive hook that drags the reader in wanting to know more. For my selection I’ll start with something I’m sure you’ll all know:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Anyone with me on a bit of Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet? Apologies for cutting it short. I can do a full performance in my front room if I’ve upset anyone. Of course it’s not a novel, I realise, but for me it’s such a great opener and prologues will so be in vogue again at some point in the future.
Amid the ten thousand noises and the jade-and-gold and the whirling dust of Xinan, he had often stayed awake all night with friends, drinking spiced wine in the North District with courtesans. Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay When I’m not reading romance, I love to be taken to far away lands. Guy Gavriel Kay does a brilliant job of this right from the first line.
There, framed against the steep backdrop of rock and sky, I see them, my two boys, bare-chested and brown as berries. Glasshopper by Isabel Ashdown One of my favourite recent reads is this debut book by Isabel Ashdown. It’s beautifully written from beginning to end and proves that a prologue can rock.
There are two types of opening lines that keep me gripped; one that makes me question and one that makes me smile. With both of these, it helps if the opening line is short and snappy to pull me into the novel.
I’ve chosen two of my favourite novel openers below….
Paige Toon – Baby Be Mine
‘He’s not mine is he?’ That’s the question I fear the most.
Rachel Gibson – Nothing But Trouble
Just because a man was lucky to be alive didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.
Both of these books are brilliant and I certainly recommend them!