Quoting the Prologue from Bertrand Russell's Autobiography on my Turnstone blog the other day, which begins, Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind, made me think about how crucially important a good first (and last) line is in a book (or a poem or a song or a play or a film).
There are plenty of examples, often quoted, of arresting first lines; for instance, Jane Austen's novel Pride And Prejudice memorably begins: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
And the opening to Melville's Moby Dick is immortal in its stark brevity: Call me Ishmael.
L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between evokes right from the start the nostalgic heart of the novel: The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
And the beginning to Tolstoy's wonderful Anna Karenina, one of the greatest novels ever written, remains imprinted in the mind, even if its meaning is a little mysterious: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Everyone knows these words which launch A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; and one of the most famous first sentences of all is the one which sets the scene for George Orwell's classic dystopian novel, 1984: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. How could you not want to read further after an opening like this?
Striking last lines are probably more difficult to find. They don't stand up as meaningfully on their own like opening lines do, since they rely on a knowledge of what's already gone before. However, there's this well known conclusion to F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby: So we went on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
And there's the ending to Margaret Mitchell's romantic blockbuster, Gone With The Wind: After all, tomorow is another day!
I also like the typically doomy last line of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor Of Casterbridge: Happiness was but the occasional episode in a general drama of pain.
I wonder if anyone has any favourite first or last lines of books (or poems, songs, films etc) they'd like to share? Would love your thoughts on this - suggestions from any readers of this blog who don't usually comment are also very welcome...