Opening sentences are curious creatures. They are well-remembered and often quoted. They can set the tone of a novel, the scene, and provide pertinent information to the story one is about to experience. And sometimes they aren't and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they fall flat, make you immediately close the book, return it to your shelf, never to be touched again. Or sometimes they are the indicator that no, dear Book, the time is not right for you and I just yet, but one day...
For example, here's one of the most quoted and frequently parodied opening lines of which I can think:
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
So much of the novel is revealed in this one sentence! The narrative voice that pervades Austen's works at once announces its presence: "Oh, hello. You're going to hear an awful lot from the characters through me using free indirect speech. Welcome to the thoughts of Mrs. Bennet in this one sentence and the motivation that will drive much of this plot along. I hope you enjoy my ironic, tongue-in-cheek self."
Another famous opening line that comes to mind:
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I haven't even read Rebecca, but that opening line is forever fixed in my mind. What's funny about this is, despite having not read the book, that line still evokes a feeling in me, a feeling of the adventure anticipated. It has such an ethereal quality to it, in itself dreamlike, with...is it longing, or maybe even apprehension? I guess I need to find out.
One of my favorite opening lines also aptly sets the tone for the journey ahead:
"This is the room of the wolfmother wallpaper." Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins
I don't know what this means but I know exactly what this means, as I feel about many of Robbins' metaphors and whimsies. This line gives you an idea of the language playground that awaits you in the pages ahead. Perhaps I am biased. Robbins is one of my favorite writers, but I didn't know that some 14 years ago when I read SLAA and took my first foray into his weird and wonderful world. What I did know, though, is that this was a writer with whom I could boogie.
The list is endless. I could continue to write out opening line upon opening line that has struck me in the gut (The Stranger by Albert Camus), made me laugh (If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino), or gave me pause (Orlando by Virginia Woolf). What I am getting at, really, is that first lines are like first impressions, and they carry weight. Cut to me, sitting here, trying to make a good first impression, an engaging entrance, something that makes you say, "Hey, that was interesting. I think I'll see what else is going on here."
Beginnings are challenging, but also exciting. There is something satisfying about anticipation, the unknown, and the promise of possibility. Perhaps first sentences aren't as revelatory as I imagine. Maybe those listed above only seem so because I've read the entire work already and have imposed that meaning onto them after the fact. Maybe I'm totally off about Rebecca... What I hope is that as time goes on, I'll revisit this beginning and find myself satisfied, content, and even a little surprised at where it started compared to where it has gone. Time will tell.
In any case, welcome to my little corner of the world. I hope you'll stay for a spell...