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The Stimulus of Promise: 10 Novels with Perfect Beginnings


The first lines of a novel can be a fruitful signal or an ill omen ––can we find the promises made by the first sentences of each of these 10 novels?

They say the first lines of a novel are always a promise –– It can be hypocritical, impossible or completely true, but it assists its fulfillment or its betrayal. Opening lines are also a decoy whose sole objective is seduction. Many books have been abandoned after a completely forgettable beginning, and while not every great beginning guarantees quality, it’s practically infallible that a bad beginning is the omen of a bad work.

That is why the following sentences are not only valuable because of their individual beauty: they are wonderful decoys transformed into fulfilled promises.

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover


“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta”.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.


“Call me Ishmael”.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick.


“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.


“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.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.


“All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Leon Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

George Orwell 1984.


“—Crazy world— said a woman once, as if she was mimicking, as if she was translating it.”

Juan Carlos Onetti, A Brief Life.


“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Samuel Beckett, Murphy.


“Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space. If you can bend space you can bend time also, and if you knew enough and could move faster than light you could travel backward in tie and exist in two places at once.”

Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye.

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