Openings, anyone?

Teaching started again this week, after something a bit longer than what you might call a break. More like a brake.  In any case, it got me thinking about openings, what they are and how they work. I began to pull books off the shelf looking for examples. This wasn’t completely  random: I went looking for beginnings I’d loved, first lines that have lodged themselves in my inner ear, lines that come back to me even when I can barely remember the name of a person I was introduced to 5 minutes ago, or mistake the dog for one of the children.

Everyone probably knows Jane Austen’s universally acknowledged truth, about the single man and the fortune.  There are others with as much resonance: ‘Call me Ishmael’, anyone? ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again?’ (Herman Melville, Moby Dick / Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca)

I think my all time favourite is Maxine Hong Kingston’s: “ ‘You must not tell anyone,’ my mother said, ‘what I am about to tell you.’ ”  (The Woman Warrior)

Close second would be the one that sometimes wakes me up at night, mid-shiver:  “It was a pagan place and circular.”  (Edna O’Brien:  A Pagan Place)

Then there’s  Cloudstreet (Tim Winton): “Rose Pickles knew something bad was going to happen. Something really bad, this time.”  Or Tim O’Brien’s “First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha.” (The Things They Carried); or Toni Morrison’s Beloved: “124 was spiteful.”  There’s Jane Eyre, locked in the red room by Charlotte Bronte, or Clare Boylan’s children, walking into a winter wood with a baby, a pram, a hen and a paper bag sounding of bells (Holy Pictures).

Every single one of them sets us up for something riveting and makes sure we’ll stick around to watch it unfold.  Do you have a favourite opening line?  Do you know why you like it?

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12 Responses to Openings, anyone?

  1. C.J. Black says:

    “In the beginning the world was covered with darkness. There was no sun, no day. The perpetual night had no moon or stars” The Geronimo campaign by Odie B. Faulk. I was hooked straight away.

  2. ‘It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known.’ When I first read it many years ago, this first line of Voyage In The Dark by Jean Rhys immediately hooked me. I wanted to know where that curtain had come from, and what past life it might be hiding.

    • libranwriter says:

      That’s a great one, Emily. It works so well with the title – gives that weird alchemical sensation of lift-off.

    • ERMurray says:

      That’s an incredible opening line, Emily. Hits so many nerves! Lia, I love the Edna O’Brien one – must go find something to add!

      • libranwriter says:

        On Twitter, Martina Devlin (@DevlinMartina) said: I like Graham Greene’s in The End of the Affair: ‘A story has no beginning or end, arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.’

        Pity Aristotle isn’t around to chew on that one.

  3. Djinn says:

    “We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I know exactly why I like it….

    • libranwriter says:

      Djinn! Great to hear from you. Don’t tease (even though it’s clever): tell us why?

      • Djinn says:

        The rubber-necking car-crash-viewing instinct that makes other people’s drug-taking so endlessly attractive, combined with the absence of either remorse or self-pity in the tone of voice.

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