Books

Surreal opening lines from literature

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A good opening line can make or break a novel. Get it right and you'll be quoted forever, get it wrong and you'll be mocked and possibly even commemorated with a world-famous competition for bad openers (we're looking at you, Edward Bulwer-Lytton).

Beyond the standard collection of beloved opening lines lie a group of openers that refuse to conform to the rules. These first lines leap right off the page with random splashes of narrative, dialogue and eccentric verbs. From classic novels by Dodie Smith and James Joyce to science fiction reads and contemporary best-sellers, here are some of the most surreal opening lines known to literature...

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  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

    "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin."

  • The Crow Road by Iain Banks

    "It was the day my grandmother exploded."

  • The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    "America, said Horace, the office temp, was a run-down and demented pimp."

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

  • Something Happened by Joseph Heller

    "I get the willies when I see closed doors."

  • The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

    "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

  • Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

    "Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that made the pink walls quiver like vaginal lips?"

  • Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

    "Let me tell you why I wished to buy a meerkat at Quin's Shanghai Circus."

  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    "He - for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters."

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

    "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo."

  • Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick

    "Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue."

  • Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

  • The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

    "Where now? Who now? When now?"

  • The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

    "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

  • Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino

    "What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings?"

  • Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

    "Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over."

  • The Hacker and the Ants: Version 2.0 by Rudy Rucker

    "Monday morning when I answered the door there were twenty-one new real estate agents there, all in horrible polyester gold jackets."

  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

    "I am bit by fleas and plagued by family."

  • Thwonk by Joan Bauer

    "I was in my makeshift darkroom above the garage developing my umpteenth print of Peter Terris, an individual of full-orbed gorgeousness who needs absolutely no retouching, an individual oozing with classic tones and highlights who barely knew that I was alive."

  • Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

    "The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like calk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust."

  • The Death Collector by Justin Richards

    "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home to tea."

  • The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    "One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary."

  • J R by William Gaddis

    " - Money…in a voice that rustled."