Surreal opening lines from literature - Books - Stylist Magazine

Surreal opening lines from books

Surreal opening lines from literature

Bizarre and memorable openers

A good opening line can make or break a novel. Get it right and you'll be quoted forever, get it wrong and you'll be mocked and possibly even commemorated with a world-famous competition for bad openers (we're looking at you, Edward Bulwer-Lytton).

Beyond the standard collection of beloved opening lines lie a group of openers that refuse to conform to the rules. These first lines leap right off the page with random splashes of narrative, dialogue and eccentric verbs. From classic novels by Dodie Smith and James Joyce to science fiction reads and contemporary best-sellers, here are some of the most surreal opening lines known to literature...

Rate your favourite opener out of five. Know one we've left off the list? Tell us in the comments section below or on Twitter

  • Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

    Memories of My Melancholy W…

    "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give… More details

    Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

    Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel García Márquez

    "The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin."

  • The Crow Road by Iain Banks

    The Crow Road by Iain Banks

    "It was the day my grandmother… More details

    The Crow Road by Iain Banks

    The Crow Road by Iain Banks

    "It was the day my grandmother exploded."

  • The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    "America, said Horace, the office temp, was… More details

    The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    The Ask by Sam Lipsyte

    "America, said Horace, the office temp, was a run-down and demented pimp."

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    The Metamorphosis by Franz …

    "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from… More details

    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

    "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."

  • Something Happened by Joseph Heller

    Something Happened by Josep…

    "I get the willies when I see closed… More details

    Something Happened by Joseph Heller

    Something Happened by Joseph Heller

    "I get the willies when I see closed doors."

  • The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

    The Last Good Kiss by James…

    "When I finally caught up with Abraham… More details

    The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

    The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley

    "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

  • Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

    Suicide Blonde by Darcey St…

    "Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that… More details

    Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

    Suicide Blonde by Darcey Steinke

    "Was it the bourbon or the dye fumes that made the pink walls quiver like vaginal lips?"

  • Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

    Veniss Underground by Jeff …

    "Let me tell you why I wished to buy a… More details

    Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

    Veniss Underground by Jeff VanderMeer

    "Let me tell you why I wished to buy a meerkat at Quin's Shanghai Circus."

  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    "He - for there could be no doubt of his… More details

    Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    Orlando by Virginia Woolf

    "He - for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters."

  • Neuromancer by William Gibson

    Neuromancer by William Gibson

    "The sky above the port was the color of… More details

    Neuromancer by William Gibson

    Neuromancer by William Gibson

    "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    I Capture the Castle by Dod…

    "I write this sitting in the kitchen… More details

    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

    "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    A Portrait of the Artist as…

    "Once upon a time and a very good time it… More details

    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

    "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo."

  • Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick

    Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick

    "Psychics can see the color of time it’s… More details

    Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick

    Blown Away by Ronald Sukenick

    "Psychics can see the color of time it’s blue."

  • Paul Clifford  by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    Paul Clifford by Edward Bu…

    "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain… More details

    Paul Clifford  by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

    "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

  • The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

    The Unnamable by Samuel Bec…

    "Where now? Who now? When now?" More details

    The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

    The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett

    "Where now? Who now? When now?"

  • The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

    The Towers of Trebizond by …

    "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt… More details

    The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

    The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

    "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

  • Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino

    Imaginative Qualities of Ac…

    "What if this young woman, who writes such… More details

    Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino

    Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things by Gilbert Sorrentino

    "What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings?"

  • Sabbath’s Theater  by Philip Roth

    Sabbath’s Theater by Phi…

    "Either forswear fucking others or the… More details

    Sabbath’s Theater  by Philip Roth

    Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth

    "Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over."

  • The Hacker and the Ants: Version 2.0 by Rudy Rucker

    The Hacker and the Ants: Ve…

    "Monday morning when I answered the door… More details

    The Hacker and the Ants: Version 2.0 by Rudy Rucker

    The Hacker and the Ants: Version 2.0 by Rudy Rucker

    "Monday morning when I answered the door there were twenty-one new real estate agents there, all in horrible polyester gold jackets."

  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

    Catherine, Called Birdy by …

    "I am bit by fleas and plagued by… More details

    Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

    Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

    "I am bit by fleas and plagued by family."

  • Thwonk by Joan Bauer

    Thwonk by Joan Bauer

    "I was in my makeshift darkroom above the… More details

    Thwonk by Joan Bauer

    Thwonk by Joan Bauer

    "I was in my makeshift darkroom above the garage developing my umpteenth print of Peter Terris, an individual of full-orbed gorgeousness who needs absolutely no retouching, an individual oozing with classic tones and highlights who barely knew that I was alive."

  • Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

    Spindle's End by Robin McKi…

    "The magic in that country was so thick and… More details

    Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

    Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

    "The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like calk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust."

  • The Death Collector by Justin Richards

    The Death Collector by Just…

    "Four days after his own funeral, Albert… More details

    The Death Collector by Justin Richards

    The Death Collector by Justin Richards

    "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home to tea."

  • The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    The Crying Of Lot 49 by Tho…

    "One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came… More details

    The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    The Crying Of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

    "One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary."

  • J R by William Gaddis

    J R by William Gaddis

    " - Money…in a voice that rustled." More details

    J R by William Gaddis

    J R by William Gaddis

    " - Money…in a voice that rustled."

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