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Stars' favourite book openers

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Former Stylist contributors have told us their favourite opening lines from books - here they explain why the words have so much meaning to them.

“I was an ambitious girl child. I knew even then that I had to be, in that environment of thugs, thieves, killers, prostitutes, gamblers – you name it, you’d find it in Trench Town.”

No Woman, No Cry: My life With Bob Marley by Rita Marley (2004)

Chosen by: Vicky McClure

“I love reggae, I love Bob and this is a very honest and beautifully written story of his life.”

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (1938)

Chosen by: Julie Burchill

“How simple is that line? How scary and straight to the point? But if Graham Greene was to write it as an unknown novelist today, as opposed to as an established novelist in 1938, he would probably have his masterpiece turned down. Novels today are benighted by the unholy trinity of bad writing; guffing on, chuffing about and faffing around. Never using one word where half a dozen will do. Not using a word everyone knows if you have something polysyllabic and pretentious up your floppy sleeve. The novel I am currently writing begins with the line, “Jackie Swallow was having anal sex with her husband Dov Lieberman when she saw her son Josh Solomons walking past the window.” It’s already been rejected as too ‘raw’ by an editor who had previously sent me a book in which the heroine takes 150 pages to have anal sex with her daughter’s 18-year-old boyfriend – a triumph of chuff, guff and faff. The old rule of writing, ‘Don’t tell me – show me’ has been replaced by ‘Don’t show me – wow me with your wordiness.’ And the reader is the loser – because the truth loves to go naked.”

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.”

The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)

Chosen by: Miriam González Durántez

“It is hard to find a more succinct manner to describe grief. Didion makes no concessions to the reader, no soft landing into the pain. With only four brief sentences she opens up the black hole that we all have just above the stomach and that we only discover when we lose a loved one – and she does it brutally, just as life does.”

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith (1949)

Chosen by: Liz Jones

“The opening sentence of this book is so unexpected: intimate, awkward, throwaway, as heroine Cassandra Mortmain, aged 17, begins her diary of her impoverished if glamorous life in a ruined castle. The writer is Dodie Smith, a former Heal’s sales assistant turned playwright who married a conscientious objector, which forced their flight to wartime Hollywood. This book, a love story, so English and so very funny, shows just how homesick she was. It’s a direct descendant of Austen, precursor to Bridget et al, and so beautifully written because she spent years toiling on it, rewriting each sentence again and again. Which is why you get lines like these. Rose, Cassandra’s beautiful sister: ëI feel grim. I haven’t any clothes, I haven’t any prospects. I live in a mouldering ruin and I’ve nothing to look forward to but old age.’

'Well, that’s been the outlook for years,’ said her brother, Thomas. 'Why has it suddenly got you down?’

'It’s the long, cold winter of my life.’ If Dodie Smith had been a man, she’d be as revered as Oscar Wilde or Noël Coward.”

“With everyone, I think, memories of early childhood consist of a series of visual impressions, many very clear but lacking any sense of chronology.”

The Siren And Selected Writings by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (anthology published 1995)

Chosen by: Manolo Blahnik

“I love the opening sentence of this book, because I feel tremendous empathy towards my own infancy. Lampedusa is one of my heroes. Each word in his pages encapsulates so many feelings that are so familiar to me and my culture. In his writing I find the olden ways of life, behaviour, manners and customs. This sentence brings back to me vivid memories of rooms and houses weathered by time and particularly the house with the garden I grew up in. I always remember going to the beach with my mother, my nanny and our dogs. Those are really magic memories to me.”

“If this typewriter can’t do it, then f*** it, it can’t be done.”

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins (1980)

Chosen by: Davina McCall

“I read the first few pages and thought I was going to hate it. I read it about 15 years ago, no about 12 years ago, and I thought it was so wordy and complicated but I persevered and it ended up being the best book I’ve ever read. The descriptions in it paint such a vivid picture and it’s an amazing and bizarre and rather strange love story, so that’s why I loved it. But it surprised me and I would highly recommend it.”

“Once upon a time…”

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (1912)

Chosen by: Miranda Hart

“There are only some stories in the world that actually start, “Once upon a time,” but I think they all should. They are magical words; you get excited about what world you are about to be drawn into, and where you are to escape to. They were magical words to me when I was younger. They still are.”

“The first time I saw Catherine she was wearing a vivid crimson dress and was nervously leafing through a magazine in my waiting room. She was visibly out of breath.”

Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr Brian Weiss (1994)

Chosen by: Jennifer Aniston

“The author was a hypnotist in a past life but also a bit of a cynic. He basically discovered this woman who was suffering anxiety and depression, and panic attacks, phobias and all that stuff. He put her under hypnosis and while she was under she started talking about all these places she had been, details of the streets, the cobble stones, the history, things that actually happened. It made me realise that you do have a past life. That was one of my, like, 'wooo’ books when I first moved to California.”

“Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle: it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.”

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (1985)

Chosen by: Dawn O’Porter

“I like it because you know instantly that this women is worth reading about. I love a fraught relationship between and a mother and daughter in a book, so this one had me straight away.”

“In case you hadn’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it?”

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A Singer (2007)

Chosen by: Leona Lewis

“If I’m ever in a bad head space this book gets me out of it. I’ve underlined certain quotes that I look at and remember that it’s a choice to stay in a negative place or move to a point of positive thought. We can always be happy.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)

Chosen by: Clare Balding

“There is so much there, in one sentence. I love the rhythm and the perfect balance of every clause, the promise of what is to come and the juxtaposition of hope with dread. It is poetry as prose, perfect in itself and yet tempting you on to turn the page.

“All stories are love stories.”

Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson (1996)

Chosen by: Clémence Poésy

“Because… it’s true!”

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