7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
"124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom. The women in the house knew it and so did the children."
This is a perfect way to start Morrison's haunting masterpiece. The short, shocking sentences leave you no time to recover before the next one assaults you. These three sentences are a primer to allow the rest of the novel to unfold as emotionally wrenching and beautiful all at once.
6. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
"See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves."
"Blood Meridian" was my first encounter with Cormac McCarthy. As soon as I read those bizarre first sentences I knew everything I heard about McCarthy's unbelievable skill as an author was true. The tone of the novel, as with these sentences, keeps the reader at a far distance from the characters of the novel but doesn't spare him/her the grizzly details of the horrible things that happen to them.
5. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
Could you ever find a better sentence to sum up Holden Caulfield than this opening sentence? That's a rhetorical question because it's been a long time since I read the book and there could be several. But still! Right away Salinger introduces you to Holden's exhausting cynicism, harsh wit, and pitiful self-denial in one sentence. Although this sentence in the context of a conversation would immediately drive me away from the speaker, as the first sentence of a novel its irresistibly endearing.
4. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
"I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind."
This first time I read these sentences, I had a similar experience as with "My Name Is Red." Although I was in the middle of finals, I couldn't help but read on. In these powerful words Ellison at once establishes one of the most memorable characters of American literature and speaks for all the millions of people oppressed in 1952 when the book was published. I've never experienced the kind of hatred inflicted on blacks in the 50s and I doubt that I'll ever be able to understand it. But if I've ever come close to such an understanding, it was while reading "The Invisible Man."
3. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
"All of this happened while I was walking around starving in Christiania - that strange city no one escapes from until it has left its mark on him."
If you've never heard of "Hunger," I highly, highly, highly, highly recommend checking it out. This unsettling opening to the book introduces one of the most frustrating characters I've ever read about. The book is a harbinger to the works of Kafka, Sartre, and Camus and in my opinion surpasses them in many ways. The candid voice of the narrator expressed in this sentence lasts the whole novel and endures homelessness, an mortally serious case of writer's block, and, of course, starvation.
2. The Stranger by Albert Camus
"Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know. I got a telegram from the home: 'Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.' That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday."
The Stranger is one of my favorite books, and I wish I could read it at least once a month. Because time is short, however, I often settle for just these amazing first few sentences. The narrator's awkward disregard for the death of his mother seems so foreign at the beginning, but by the end of the book Camus has the reader thinking with the same cold, detached logic.
1. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed into a gigantic insect."
This simple statement, in my opinion, is the best first sentence of all time. In 17 words Kafka has pulled the reader into his bizarre universe where nothing could be more commonplace than waking up as a huge beetle. The sentence is both funny and macabre and despite its absurdity seems to make total sense.
Well we made it! Like I said, I'm sure there are lots of other great first sentences and it's your job to point them out! Post them up!