The top ten: First lines in fiction


John Rentoul
Sunday 02 March 2014 01:00

Jonny Geller, the boss of the literary agency Curtis Brown, said on Twitter: 'This is the saddest story I have ever heard,' the start of 'The Good Soldier' by Ford Madox Ford, is 'perhaps my favourite opening sentence in fiction'. Here are 10 more suggestions I like.

1. 'There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it' CS Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Chosen by Tom Freeman.

2. 'Marley was dead: to begin with' Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. The finest use of a colon in literature.

3. 'The scent, smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning' Ian Fleming, Casino Royale. Suggested by Joe Oliver.

4. 'There were four of us' Jerome K Jerome, Three Men in a Boat. Nominated by James Vaughan.

5. '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. From Sarah Wollaston MP

6. 'All this happened, more or less' Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five. From James Galley.

7. 'It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen' George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Suggested by Clive Davis.

8. 'It was the day my grandmother exploded' Iain Banks, The Crow Road. Chosen by Stuart Ritchie.

9. 'Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing' Martin Amis, The Information. From Chris Deerin.

10. 'It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea' Philip Reeve, Mortal Engines. From Thomas Hemsley.

Next week: Lost positives (such as ept and hevelled)

Coming soon: Mixed metaphors (no, really this time). Send your suggestions, and ideas for future Top 10s, to

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