Our 10 favourite first lines

As a whole new year is here, we’ve been thinking about beginnings. Book beginnings to be precise! The first few lines of a book are in many ways the most important, they either spur the reader on, to buy the book, take it home and immerse themselves in the world it creates; or not. We’ve been weighing up our favourite first lines from the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction nominees and winners over the years. From sweeping scene-setting introductions to first lines designed to put the reader on edge; there are a million different ways to start a novel – here are some of our favorites.

There but for the, Ali Smith

The fact is, imagine a man sitting on an exercise bike in a spare room. He’s a pretty ordinary man except that across his mouth it looks like he’s wearing letterbox flaps.

A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan

It began the usual way, in the bathroom of the Lassimo Hotel. Sasha was adjusting her yellow eye shadow in the mirror when she noticed a bag on the floor beside the sink that must have belonged to the woman whose peeing she could faintly hear through the vaultlike door of a toilet stall.

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 06.27 hours on 1 January 1975, Alfred Archibald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate face down on the steering wheel, hoping the judgement would not be too heavy upon him.

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, Eimear McBride

For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say. Mammy me? Yes you. Bounce the bed, I’d say. I’d say that’s what you did. Then lay you down. They cut you round, Wait and hour and day.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemulu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops and the quiet, aibiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.

The Tiger’s Wife, Téa Obreht

In my earliest memory, my grandfather is as bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers. He puts on his hat, his big-buttoned raincoat, and I wear my lacquered shoes and velvet dress. It is autumn, and I am four years old.

A Mercy, Toni Morrison

Don’t be afraid. My telling can’t hurt you in spite of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in the dark – weeping perhaps or occasionally seeing the blood once more – but I will never again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth.

Where’d You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple

The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s most important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.’ You’ll notice that wasn’t even the question. When I press him, he says the second annoying thing, ‘The truth is complicated. There’s no way one person can ever know everything about another person.’

All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld

Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding. Crows, their beaks shining, strutting and rasping, and when I waved my stick they flew to the trees and watched, flaring out their wings, singing, if you could call it that.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.

Did we miss your favourite first line? Tweet us with your pick of the best opening lines in fiction.

The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.