What Is The Best Opening To A Novel?


A tale of two cities


I thought in this season of spring, the time of renewal and new beginnings, I would ask a simple, but difficult, question: what do you consider the best opening of a novel to be?

For me, the absolute best beginning is from Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities:

“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.”

So, I ask all of you: what do you consider the best beginning of a novel to be?

34 thoughts on “What Is The Best Opening To A Novel?

  1. The opening of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf:

    – Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

    The opening immediately draws the reader to the world that Mrs Dalloway lives in, as well as her thoughts. It also raises the question of the significance of “buying the flowers herself”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. My all-time favorite comes from Richard Bach (author of Jonathon Livingston Seagull) in his book “Illusions: the Aventures of a Reluctant Messiah”… The sentence is:

    “There was a Master come unto the earth, born in the holy land of Indiana, raised in the mystical hills east of Fort Wayne.”

    It is one of my all-time favorite novels… a bit of Eastern religious perspective, and inspirationally thought-provoking. (And being from Indiana myself, the sentence made me laugh AND keep on reading…)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My favorite book opening will probably always be “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” Yes Harry Potter is my favorite book series ever, but with an opening like this, you know you’re about to experience something weird. Because after all, perfectly normal is boring, so there is no way their lives would be allowed to stay that way!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am partial to the opening lines of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, one of my best-loved books from childhood: “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s hard for me to choose one I think is “the best”, but this one has particular resonance: “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person” (Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Since opening lines are so subjective, I’ll throw one of my favorites into the mix. It’s from the first Rachel Morgan book, Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison. This opening line not only hooks me, it introduces the main character in a way that makes her unique and relatable (I think).

    I stood in the shadows of a deserted shop front across from The Blood and Brew Pub, trying not to be obvious as I tugged my black leather pants back up where they belonged.

    To me, that line not only gives me a sense of place, it tells me this story isn’t ‘normal.’ After all, how many pubs do you know with blood in their name? And it begs me to find out why this character is standing in the shadows casing some pub. Is she the protagonist or antagonist? At this point, it’s hard to tell, but I’d like to know more. Yet, at the same time, I find myself relating to her tugging at the pants. (I mean, how many times have you found yourself having to do the same thing, when your pants just won’t stay where they belong?)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. — He was an old man who fished alone in the gulf and he’d gone eighty-three days without taking a fish.

    — The scent of corruption drifted through the canebrake. K had grown familiar with the odor.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Looking over my bookcase, I offer the opening of Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members–not because it will go down in the annals of literature but because it is funny as all get-out, rating exceptionally high on the Snark-o-Meter:

    Dear Committee Members:

    Over the past twenty-odd years I’ve recommended god only knows how many talented candidates for the Bentham January residency–that enviable literary oasis in the woods south of Skowhegan: the solitude, the pristine cabins, the artistic camaraderie, and those exquisite hand-delivered satchels of apples and cheese . . . Well, , you can scratch all prior nominees and pretenders from your mailing lists, because none is as provocative or as promising as Darren Browles.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I can’t think of one that I say would be a favorite because I loved so many books. However, the kind of opening I like is when something seems off or “Once upon. . . ” I think I have a weakness for that opening because of all the fairy tales I enjoyed reading once upon a time . . .

    Liked by 1 person

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