Writers are always being urged to provide dramatic and memorable openings, but a post on Random Distractions sent me on a tour of my own bookshelves to discover that amongst even the worthiest of contemporary novels, great first sentences are hard to find. Determined to find something better, I resorted to Google which reminded me of this one.
‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’
(L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between, 1953)
Maybe not contemporary, but still stunning, though not so much the start of a story as a statement: a ‘truth universally acknowledged.’ Of course it takes a different kind of panache to deliver,
‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’
(Iain Banks, The Crow Road)
but maybe nowadays we are too hell bent on plunging into the action to pause and simply deliver a statement.
I also think it’s not just the thought or the action but the rhythm. Think of
‘Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’
(Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca)
As for contemporary, ten minutes ago I picked up a copy of Linda Grant The Clothes on their Backs. It begins,
‘Today, for the first time in many years, I passed the shop in Seymour Street.’
Why so good? I don’t know, but I like it. I like it a lot.
For a novice, there’s always the danger of striving for effect, or for bursting in with a fanfare that the rest of the novel can’t deliver. You can read my the current offering here, although it’s up for review following the addition of a mini prologue.
Feel free to give your verdict.
3 thoughts on “First impressions”
The other greate Iain Banks opening has to be the completely masterful ‘The Wasp Factory’:
“I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped.”
I’ve got a friend who loves Iain Banks’ science fiction stuff, but has *never* read The Wasp Factory (or Crow Road for that matter). I keep on trying to push them, and the wonderful Complicity…
Just found another great opener. ‘No one had seen her naked until her death.’ Sarah Dunant ‘The Birth of Venus’ – actually refers to a nun. Confess to not having read The Wasp Factory but like IB’s style especially Crow Road.
You should definitely read ‘The Wasp Factory’. I have to say its one of the most audacious books I think I’ve ever read, especially when you think that it was his first published novel.
The only problem I had with it is because I’m a chemist. There is a bit at the end involving potassium bromide where I thought ‘his Dad is a spectroscopist’! I’m just such a nerd!