It was the day my grandmother exploded.
How cool is that? How could you not read on?
Daphne DuMaurier's Rebecca also starts very well:
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.
I like the rest of those books as well, not just their first lines, and have re-read them many times. Sometimes though a book fails to meet the promise of its first line. For example, I think Dickens' famous A Tale of Two Cities has a fantastic first line:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
and a wonderful last line:
It is a far, far better thing that I do...
but none of the lines in between are nearly as good. You may think me a philistine, but that's my opinion.
At the moment I am re-reading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, as I do once a year without fail. Its opening line is:
First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.
Which I think is a seriously yummy first line. No surprise, really, Ray Bradbury can truly write. Some science fiction authors rely on inventive story lines (few rely on in-depth characterisation) but Bradbury can write. In Something Wicked he has a Jack Kerouac-beat-thing going, but tamed and set to a definite purpose. His purpose is to explore the nature of age and aging, of youth and growing up and old age. It's a coming of age novel in which the young heroes come to terms with change, and so does the old hero. It's hard to say which of them finds the process more difficult. There's also a seriously creepy evil carnival, a humble town library which becomes increasingly important as the novel progresses, and provides some of the best protection and ammunition against the bad guys (Buffy the Vampire Slayer owes this book a major debt), a scary train, a terrifying hot-air balloon. It also has without a doubt the best chapter of any book ever. I reproduce it here in its entirety:
I hope I'm whetting your appetite. If you haven't read this book you really should.
And you should read it now, in October, when the leaves are falling and the nights close in early and it's not quite cold enough for gloves and hats but cold enough to make your bare fingers tingle and ears ache. And if there's a carnival that visits your area around this time of year, so much the better.