It’s every author’s dream to write books that start with a bang. That’s how you draw the readers in, get them hooked, knock their socks off right from the get-go. But it’s an elusive goal, for many: the beginning bang often stretches beyond the opening line, and has to be backed-up by a brilliant story to work. Here are ten books that start with a bang and deserve their spot on your to-read list.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy begins with the end of the world – literally! You can’t get much more of a bang than that! A Vogon fleet vaporises our dear planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. Luckily, an unassuming English gent – Arthur Dent – is rescued by Ford Prefect, the humanoid alien freelancer who’s writing a guide to Earth for an interplanetary travel guide. Ford drags Arthur up and away, and they hitch a ride on a passing Vogon space craft. And so, their misadventures begin… Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s whole career started with a bang when she wrote the prologue to her debut novel, The Secret History. In my humble opinion, it’s one of the strongest openers ever written. The first pages reveal that a group of friends have killed someone (clang!) named Bunny, and that he’d been dead “for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation”. The reader doesn’t know who Bunny is or why they killed him or how grave their situation might be – it raises so many questions, you simply have no choice but to read on. Read my full review of The Secret History here.
The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue
The Temple House Vanishing is surely one of the most underrated books that start with a bang. It might sound like your standard girl-goes-missing mystery/thriller, but Donohue manages to use a well-worn plot to interrogate all manner of very literary themes: class, religion, jealousy. Twenty-five years ago, a teenage student of Temple House vanished, along with her enigmatic and charming art teacher. In the (roughly) present day, a journalist with a childhood connection to the girl decides to investigate. With the death of a significant character in the opening pages, Donohue signals early on that you’re going to get more than you bargained for. Read my full review of The Temple House Vanishing here.
The Likeness by Tana French
The best books that start with a bang lay out a premise so bonkers, you simply have to know how it all plays out. That’s what happens with The Likeness, a crime fiction novel by the reigning queen Tana French. Detective Cassie Maddox gets a frantic call from her cop boyfriend, checking on her wellbeing, because a murder victim has just been found who looks exactly like her. They look so similar, in fact, that Maddox’s boss convinces her to pose as the dead girl in her share-house, to see if the murderer will reveal himself if he’s fooled into thinking he didn’t get the job done. BONKERS, right? Read my full review of The Likeness here.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Everything I Never Told You begins in 1977. The Lee family appears to be average in every way – working father, stay-at-home mother, three kids and a comfortable home in Ohio. Except that their middle child, Lydia, is dead… and they don’t know it, yet. That’s literally what Celeste Ng reveals on the very first page, and it only gets more intense from there. Your eyes will be glued to the page as Lydia’s disappearance, then death, is revealed to the Lee family, and the reasons for it become clear. Ng has a real knack for writing books that start with a bang. Read my full review of Everything I Never Told You here.
The Martian by Andy Weir
If you’re going to transcend genre boundaries and draw in readers who don’t usually go for science fiction books, they need to start with a bang. Andy Weir nails it with The Martian. “I’m pretty much fucked,” says the narrator Mark Watney in the first line. “That’s my considered opinion. Fucked.” Who could resist reading more? The true fucked-ness of Watney’s situation becomes clear when he reveals that he has been left behind, alone, on Mars after an expedition to the red planet went terribly wrong. He’s going to have to figure out how to survive there, alone, hundreds of thousands of miles away from anyone who could help and with no way to communicate. Read my full review of The Martian here.
Under The Dome by Stephen King
I can’t actually remember if the descending dome makes a “bang” when it lands in the opening pages of Under The Dome – but it’s such a shock for the readers and characters alike, I say it counts as one of the best books that start with a bang, anyway. A small (fictional) town (in Maine, naturally) finds itself completely cut off from the rest of the world by a large barely-permeable dome that descends over them on an otherwise-normal October day. As with any crisis situation, there are some who stand to benefit from (among other things) the panic that ensues, and an unlikely hero is called up to save the day. The dome basically throws small-town politics into a pot of water, and sets it to boil. Read my full review of Under The Dome here.
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister, The Serial Killer has an incredibly intriguing title, but Oyinkan Braithwaite didn’t stop there. The opening pages prove that it’s no bait and switch! Korede is literally the person Ayoola calls to help her hide a body – and it’s a good thing that she has one, too, because Ayoola has the unfortunate habit of dispatching her boyfriends. The story begins with Korede cleaning up the blood spatters of the third man that Ayoola has murdered, and immediately you get the sense that this situation can’t continue indefinitely. If that’s not one of the best books that start with a bang, I don’t know what is! Read my full review of My Sister, The Serial Killer here.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“You better not never tell nobody but God.” How’s that for a book that begins with a bang? It’s a powerful opener for a powerful story, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. It sets the stage for a narrative styled as letters to God, from a black woman named Celie. When she starts writing these letters, she is just fourteen years old, and yet she has already seen and experienced a lifetime’s worth of hardship. Despite the book’s traumatic and depressing content, it ends up being more uplifting than you’d expect – promise! Read my full review of The Color Purple here.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
No list of books that start with a bang would be complete without the most iconic of them all: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It’s one of the most significant fictional stories of the 20th century, mostly for its killer opener. The first pages reveal that the protagonist, Gregor Samsa, has woken up to find himself transformed into a giant bug. Everything else is normal, his bedroom and the weather and his nagging mother, but he’s forced to navigate the world as an oversized insect. He needs to call in sick to work, for starters, and scratch an itch on his belly – both easier said than done when you’ve got a convex back and extra legs. It’s baffling and weird and interesting and provocative – all in Kafka’s signature style.