Best opening lines/coda, novel?

Very simple: which novel do you consider to have the best opening lines, and/or which has the best closing lines? The selections should have an upward limit of a few paragraphs, though I suspect most will be shorter. Use any criteria you think appropriate, and I suppose I can tolerate selections form works not strictly classified as prose fiction in novel form (insert smiley face).

My selections:

Opening lines from Nabokov’s Lolita:

Closing of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

“Tale of Two Cities”

“Moby Dick”


All three intrigue yet entertain - draw you in. All three are so well known I don’t think I have to quote them.

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert
when the drugs began to take hold . . . And suddenly there
was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of
what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and
diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles
an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was
screaming: ‘Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?’”
Don’t think I need to say where that came from.

For the record, this gets really old after about 50 pages or so.

Best opening line: Elise ou la vraie vie by Claire Etcherelli. Beautiful, tormented, almost Hemingway-esque in her economy of words. I’ve got it only in French from University decades ago, but please, please find it in English, and read the first page. Poetry. The rest of the book is good too.

Best closing lines, again French: La bete humaine by Emile Zola. A more powerful style and ending in the written word I dare you to find. Go into a bookshop and read the last page. I nearly fainted when I read it (but I was only 17 at the time).

[Edited by Czarcasm on 02-07-2001 at 08:35 PM]

How appropraite that I am following a post about “La bete humaine”.
“I am an angry man. I am a sick man. I am an unattractive man. I believe my liver is diseased.”

                Notes from Underground- Dostoyevsky

Best opening I ever read:

“Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was fifteen, and I was three.”

LADY SINGS THE BLUES, by Billie Holliday

I’ve always been partial to the ending of Joyce’s The Dead.

Also, from Anne Patchett’s Taft

A girl walked into the bar.

“Call me Ismael”–Moby Dick

“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.”–The Gunslinger

On side note does anyone know what book or novel this opening line comes from, “I was born in the town of York, in the year…”???

[b/]One Hundred Years of Solitude** by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

Hooks you in by the end of that second phrase, and is both mysterious and wonderful. Ice? I once quoted this in a roomful of science fiction writers at a Worldcon and they were silent in awe.

The best endingv IMO was Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, but I can’t remember the quote at the moment.

  • He was 170 days dying and not yet dead…*

Okay, so it’s not technically the opening line; there’s a whole prologue before it. It’s still the best opening line I’ve ever seen in an SF story, one of the best I’ve seen period. Shame on you if you don’t know it immediately :stuck_out_tongue:

“I’m going to get that bloody bastard if I die in the attempt.”

Louis Sarno’s opening line in Songs from the Forest: My Life Among the BaBenjelli Pygmies. Louis goes on to explain that it was late at night somewhere in the Netherlands, listening to the radio, when he first heard Pygmie music and he was enthralled by the magical and unfamiliar sounds. He has gone on to become quite the authority on BaBenjelli Pygmies in the Central African Republic especially on their eerie forest music. I like the idea of someone having an epiphany on what their life is all about or, more important, what is going to be all about from this point on.

From Varley’s Steel Beach

“It was the year when they finally immanentized the Eschaton. On April 1, the world’s great powers came closer to nuclear war then every before, all because of an obscure island named Fernando Poo. By the time international affairs returned to their normal cold-war level, some wits were calling it the most tasteless April Fool’s joke in history. I happen to know all the details about what happened, but I have no idea how to recount them in a manner that will make sense to most readers. For instance, I am not even sure who I am, and my embarrassment on that matter makes me wonder if you will believe anything I reveal”

Having read the above novel many times that makes sense to me, but that’s got to be one of the most balls out way to get rid of as many readers as possible I’ve ever seen. At least outside the Bulwer-Lyton contest.

A river runs through it
“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing,”

Just a suggestion, and it’s not my thread, but could we all play nice and give the quote and the book it comes from? If you just cite the book and suggest we check it out… well, that might take a while and I can’t spend ALL my time just following up suggestions. If you just give the quote and not where it’s from, it’s irritating if it sounds interesting. As for the ‘shame on you if you don’t know…’ stance, I’m pretty well-read but nobody can read everything.

Moving on…

Favourite opening? Tough choice. One favourite:

"It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars."

  • The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler.

And another:**
“Marley was dead, to begin with.”**

  • A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

Favourite close:
"I been away a long time".

  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey. In the context of all that has gone before, a lovely closer which tends to resonate in the mind.

“On the day his grannie was killed by the English, Sir William Scott the Younger of Buccleuch was at Melrose Abbey, marrying his aunt.”

The Disorderly Knights Dorothy Dunnett

Oop! The “immanentizing the Eschaton” quote is from The Illuminatus Trilogy.