The best of the first

I’ve been thinking over the last couple of days about what makes a good first line. I’ve been composing a short story inspired by a word I read in a news article – hikikomori – and with the first line I really want to convey the sense of isolation felt by the main character. He is trapped in his house but can leave whenever he wants – its a prison of his own making and he knows every inch of it.

Recently I have reviewed or discussed books that have fabulous first lines:

“It was the morning my grandmother exploded.”
The Crow Road

“Ever since his young wife had given birth to a cat as an unexpected consequence of his experiments in sexual alchemy, and ever since his accidental invention of a novel explosive that confounded Newtonian physics by losing its force at the precise distance of two metres from the source of its blast, President Veracruz had thought of himself not only as an adept but also an intellectual.”
Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord

What makes a really good first line? Can we underestimate the importance of first lines – is it vital to the book that it be totally gripping, right from the first few words, or do we simply forget what those first words were by the time we get to the end?

Which are your favourite first lines?

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