It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Every unpublished novelist (and perhaps the published ones as well) stresses about their opening sentence.  Publishers (and agents) give you so little scope to impress that if you don’t have them at hello, you could be done for.  And I, too, admit to occasionally judging the buying-worthiness of a book by its first sentence if not its cover.  But what makes a good first sentence is not clear.  The most famous include the opening line of Pride and Prejudice (“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”) and that of Anna Karenina (“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”)  The former still makes me smile and the latter always makes me think, “No, I don’t think so, and that’s a lot of pages to be reading about unhappiness.” (which might explain why I’ve never gotten past the first page of Anna K (good thing for Tolstoy, publishers in his day were willing to read further)).  A Neil Simon play I was once in had the protagonist wax on about the opening line of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead – “Nobody could sleep.” – which isn’t bad but, when it comes to sleep references, I prefer the opening of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”).  This sentence I notice didn’t make it on “100 best first lines of novels” as decided by the American Book Review (   Another favourite however did: “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”( Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar).  Strangely enough it speaks to me of youth.

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