47 2 mins 10 yrs

I know we are all a well read bunch here on ATW and I was thinking about what my favourite introduction line to a novel was. There are a few contenders…

Dickens is, of course, sublime;

“Tt 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.”

Then there is….

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

L.P. Hartley was inspired with that one.

But the line that is unbeatable comes from the pen of Eric Arthur Blair aka George Orwell…

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

Oh, and THAT novel, 1984, also has the best pay off line ..

“He had won the victory over himself. He loved big brother.”

Your favourites?

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47 thoughts on “BEST INTRO LINES

  1. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I beleive in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

    John Irving – A Prayer For Owen Meany.

    A great first line from a very funny and very memorable book.

  2. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

    As a device for getting you to read on, it’s quite effective.

  3. “A transcript of today’s spoken proceedings in Parliament….

    You can’t beat Hansard for a riveting day’s read 😉

  4. “On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok.”

    Saul Bellow, The Victim

    and that was before global warming!

  5. “It was a bomber’s sky.”

    Len Deighton’s Bomber

    Highly recommended to anyone who is interested in the realities of the bombing of Germany in WW2, from the point of view of both the air crews and the civilions below.

  6. Listening to Radio 4 tonight I heard these words spoken by Richard Burton:

    No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

    How could you not read on?

  7. Peter –

    If I read what I was supposed as much as I read Len Deighton when I was at university I’d have been a professor long ago.

    As well as Bomber, which is magnificent, his nine Bernie Sampson novels (a trilogy of trilogies) is required reading for spy/Cold War fans.

  8. Alf,
    that is indeed a fantastic intro, beautifully spoken by Burton, and penned by the amazing HG Wells.

  9. As well as Bomber, which is magnificent, his nine Bernie Sampson novels (a trilogy of trilogies) is required reading for spy/Cold War fans.


    Have read them all. Len Deighton is not quite John Le Carre, but very close, and much better on Berlin divided. I speak as one who went though Checkpoint Charlie about a year before the wall tumbled, and experienced the oppressive Stasi-dominated atmosphere of Frederichstrasse and elsewhere.

    And the farce of the DDR exchange rate of one ostmark to one westmark. The freemarket guys in East Berlin were offering the true market rate of six to one. But then Helmut Kohl offered the Osties one to one after reunification, in order to buy the election, and surprisingly the bribe worked. And the Westies have been paying for it ever since.

    Which may make them even less likely to pay for the failures of Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland and Belgium in order to “save” the euro. Maybe a euro comprising Germany, Austria, Holland and Finland can be salvaged from the wreckage that is coming.

  10. “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Murphy sat out of it, as though he were free”

    Murphy Samuel Beckett.

  11. Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other.

    MS. Found in a Bottle

  12. one of my favorite lines in all of literature however is,

    From hells heart I stab at thee, for hates sake I spit my last breath at thee…

  13. “From hells heart I stab at thee, for hates sake I spit my last breath at thee…”

    B. O’Bama?

  14. “From hells heart I stab at thee, for hates sake I spit my last breath at thee…”

    – Labour Party general election manifesto, 1997

  15. love both those,

    It was actually Ahab as he rode Moby Dicks back to his death.

    and in a modern use all star trek fans would know them as Kahns last words.

    But it does fit oh so well in so many political aspects on both sides of the pond

  16. Moby Duck ha?
    Troll, you really have to move on from those Disney comics… 😉
    How’s your good lady coming along?

  17. quack quack… I was surprised the line from Poe’s tale got no comment,

    Monica is doing great, cancer free and on the slow rode of recovery and reconstruction, thanks for askin

  18. Great to hear such positive news about Monica, Troll. Long may you both continue on that happy road together.

  19. Troll,
    tell her Huey, Louie and Dewey send their regards!

    I read Moby Dick years ago, but sadly only the image of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab remains. Gregory of course was a superstar… Boys from Brazil, The Big Country etc. etc.

  20. “A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism”

    I’m sure that’ll go down well 🙂

    Great news Troll. I hope that things continue to go well with both of you and the girls.

  21. I can’t find it Agi. Can you re post please?

    Alf, The gravitas of Burton’s War of the Worlds narration is mesmerising. It holds a special place for me as it was the soundtrack that I wrote my Masters thesis to.

  22. “Of my country and of my family I have little to say. Ill usage and length of years have driven me from the one, and estranged me from the other.”

    Far from being an intro line, that is a candidate for being a ‘best exit line’.

    Strange how it sums-up what so many of my elderly neighbours feel and frequently say, – not so eloquently, of course, but certainly with a lot of feeling.

    Many have had their pensions reduced to penury level by Brown’s political interference which reduced many life-long nest eggs to a pittance, followed by interest rates so low that they are virtually paying the government interest.

    The estrangement comes not from family ignoring them per se, but by having had to move far away to find employment, thus making it difficult to visit, – so much for Tebbitt’s ‘Get on yer bike’ remark. Somehow a phonecall doesn’t always quite heal a heart does it?

    You can see how it might beccome a great exit line…

  23. Here you go Pauly,

    November 11, 2011
    By Mahons On November 11th, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to a single sentence: All quiet on the Western front. He had fallen foward and lay on the earth as though sleeping. Turning him over one saw that he could not have suffered long; his face had an expression of calm, as though almost glad the end had come.

    Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front.

    To all veterans, may you have the peace you treasure. And to the families of those who never returned, may God grant you the comfort you so deserve. I salute you.

    Now follow the comments. 🙂

  24. Ernest,

    “Strange how it sums-up what so many of my elderly neighbours feel and frequently say, – not so eloquently, of course, but certainly with a lot of feeling.”
    Not like you! You’ve never mentioned your neighbours before. Do you live on one of those private sheltered housing schemes by any chance? I hope all is still well mon ami?

  25. Ernest a lot of Poe’s writings could be and should be interpreted from an old depressed persons point of view, I always enjoyed his work, great reading for stormy fall evenings

  26. 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.
    Love Catcher in they Rye

    Or what about
    All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

    and of course
    The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

  27. Best of everything to your wife, (I hate to call anyone a) Troll. Peace and healing vibes…I’m glad she’s near Philly…some of the best docs in the world.

  28. Agit8ed,

    No way Jose! – I just live on the South coast in an area with a lot of retirees. That’s when we are in the UK. When abroad, we live in Florida – which is also full of retirees. Fortunately, even though we both have the usual aches and pains of maturing years, we are quite self sufficient. Thank you for asking.

    With the Poe quote it is as Troll says best read when in a ‘down’ mood, and this time of the year is always on the gloomy side for us, – for obvious reasons!

    He is old enough to know by now that depression is not just an ‘old age’ problem, but can stike at any stage of life. My first bout came after an unexpected heart attack some years ago. That alone tends to make one more emotion prone.

    For my sins I write occasional ad hoc articles for the Herald Tribune group in the US, and frequently get asked about lifestyle differences between here and there as it applies to the older generations. Hence, in the cause of research, I get opportunities to chat with pensioners of all shapes and sizes and income levels.

    Suffice to say, a 70 year old here in the UK is at least 10 years older than a 70 year old in the US. – if you get my drift… I still have business connections there and know several octogenarians who still work – because they like to, and not because they have to, – and are better for it! I find that approach suits me too.

  29. Ernesto!
    Sorry for the delay; the missus and I attended our parish church this morning for the Remembrance Service.
    You just so hit it all on the head Ernest when you said,

    “He is old enough to know by now that depression is not just an ‘old age’ problem, but can stike at any stage of life. My first bout came after an unexpected heart attack some years ago. That alone tends to make one more emotion prone.”
    As a younger man I worked with stroke victims, washing them, taking them to the loo, taking ’em out for walks…
    It’s all about perception and where we’re at at any given time..
    We lose that understanding in our western liberal democracies, where the adverts are all about pretty young things and virile young men. We forget that one day we will be old, we will be frail, we will need assistance. We forget that some young people will experience these things before they have a right to experience them.
    Perhaps through genetic damage or war, or an accident…
    We really need to think before we speak.

  30. Okay…so I’m going to be corny BUT I love you two (E and 8)…ever since you guys posted about the pearl-button people, a year ago or more. Whenever I look in at ATW, I always look for your postings. I don’t always agree with you but I love to hear your perceptions. Cheers!

  31. Mairin2,
    No you are not corny, you just understand how things are! Sometimes I struggle to believe that I am writing these words. Okay, I am 65. My bod doesn’t work as well as it did. I cannot do 20 pullups anymore, my varifocals make it difficult for me to read detail like I did, and I sometimes wobble at the top of a ladder when I used to climb from tree to tree in a childhood game of “Tree Chase”.
    Or with my friends I made giant snowballs which we positioned so that buses couldn’t get down our road….
    I have wonderful memories, but Ernest is a lot older than me, and has more experience of how time inflicts its revenge on our youthful impudence. It will come my way soon, but not on this day I hope. 😉

  32. Mairin2,

    Thank you! Agi and I both write ‘from the heart’, and it is good to know we write for a bigger audience than just us two!


    The BBC just had an excellent ‘special’ of the Antiques Road show, from the National Memorial Arboretum. On show were artifacts from WWI, II and the Falklands, but with the added bonus that the pieces on show were all still owned by those, or by the relatives of those, who were the original recipients. Stirring stuff – even the various presenters were choked and tearful as the various stories were told. TV its best!


    Catch it on BBC iPlayer….if only for the last few minutes when they talk about St Paul’s during the Blitz. I just loved the story of Churchill saying St Paul’s must be preserved at all costs. So every able bodied man was posted there, complete with extra pumps and miles of hose all prepared to pump the Thames dry should it be needed.

    As luck would have it, on one of the worst night attacks the bombs all missed their mark, – that night also happened to be when the Spring Tide was at it’s peak – i.e. the Thames was at its six month lowest level, and the water unpumpable.

    Doesn’t luck play such a big part in all our lives?

  33. “Doesn’t luck play such a big part in all our lives?”
    The luck yes. It’s what you do with your luck that determines your worth Ernest.
    Thanks for reminding us again of the surgery you went through. It explains things.. 😉

  34. Listen, guys, forget the rest (although Henry’s choice is second only to one). The best intro lines in any book are

    “Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade, but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar.”

    from The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien

  35. I can’t think of any great opening lines right now, but the mention of Le Carre and Deighton (above) sparked my interest.
    Personally, I prefer Deighton over Le Carre. I’m reading L.C’s “The Honourable Schoolboy” right now (I bought it years ago but have only just got round to reading it), and it takes ages to get going. I had to really urge myself to stick with it through the first few chapters, telling myself “soon, the story will get going”. Endless pages of descriptive waffle to wade through. Even now, when I’m 3/4 through it (I’m at the bit where Westerby is searching for the pilot Marshall) I reckon Le Carre spends far too long trying to paint the background instead of giving us the actual plot. And I disagree with his thought that he should have left Smiley out of the book altogether: The London scenes, where Smiley etc unravel the trail, are far more interesting than Westerby’s ‘on the ground’ scenes in Hong Kong. He’s just the agent in the field, it’s back in London where the puzzle is unravelled, and clarified to the reader.
    However, I haven’t quite got to the end of it yet.

  36. …Deighton, on the other hand, with his ‘Bernard Samson’ novels, really got my mind into the atmosphere of pre-1989 Berlin. His huge story about Fiona, the so-called Soviet defector who was really all the time a double-agent for London, I found immensely thrilling. The way that the Service pulled out all the stops to hide the truth from ‘Bernard’, not flinching from ruining his marriage in order to preserve Fiona as their prize source… the way that Werner Volkman, Bernard’s best friend, was eventually revealed as Fiona’s case officer all the time…
    The only book I haven’t read (over and over again, I might add) is the final one in the final triad, “Charity” (because “Hope” seemed to end on the right note, just at the right time. I didn’t want to read any further).

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