by Jane Austen
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."This first line does a great job of helping the reader to see what the novel is all about. And Pride and Prejudice really is about getting a husband and the troubles related to that quest. There is also a bit of that Victorian, gentile sass in this opening line. I mean, "It is a truth universally acknowledged," is sassy. Oh my, a rich, single man...then he must need a wife. This works well with the characters who the reader will be introduced too quickly after.
Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
"The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o'clock."This isn't a very interesting opening line until your continue reading and understand that by "fly" Morrison doesn't mean by airplane.
The Picture of Dorian Gray
by Oscar Wilde
"The studio was filled with the rich ordour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn."A beautiful opening image of a summer wind bringing in the scents of the garden. Sigh. What a peaceful and tranquil setting for the beginning of this novel. By studio one infers art studio. Seems like a perfect day.
Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and that my lousy childhood was lie, 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."Until I find something that can top this, the opening line from Catcher in the Rye is the winner. Best opening line yet. Salinger does this incredible job of capturing the voice to Holden immediately in this opening line. The reader instantly knows things about Holden. He knows that he is a cynic, he is a pessimist, he is well-read, and that he isn't too interested in sharing everything with his audience. You get the voice of Holden which is one of those literary voices that will stick in your head forever. Plus, there is that reversal in the opening line. Holden prepares us to receive the story of his "lousy childhood" because it seems like that is going to be very important to the story (which it actually turns out to be), but then at the last moment Holden switches it on us and doesn't share any of that information because he doesn't feel like it. A brilliant, brilliant opening line.