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Analyses Of First Lines #9

I’ll start off by saying that this post being very literally blue is something I did not plan; I discovered it once all the images had been added and decided to keep it as is. Whenever I choose books (or, it could rightly be said, lines) for this post, I’m thinking in terms of text, but I quite like the matching palettes and might have to consider the affect again if and when (more likely ‘when’) I get into a muddle choosing future books.

This post is effectively brought to you thanks to Roselle Lim – Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop was published a few weeks ago and the first line from it was what gave me the idea to create another of these posts. I read the first line, deemed it perfect, and must admit I put the book down after that so that I could ponder the line for a few minutes.

I have been reading more closely more recently, if that makes sense and isn’t too clumsy in terms of phrasing. I noticed when reading Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent that I was seeing so much more in it than I had previously, I wondered if my review should still stand. It ought to, of course, but maybe there is a place for updates when you’re dealing with something like reading, something where a person’s experience will keep growing and improving. I might have to write a post about this…

Roselle Lim’s Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop (2020)

I predicted the future on my third birthday.

Book cover

So, then, the line that spawned this post. It doesn’t tell you anything about who you’re hearing about or what the story is about, except that it does. Title and any context aside – because ‘magical’ lends itself to the idea that predicting the future is par for the cause, and the cover suggests a happy book with happy likeable people – you might wonder about this character. They predicted the future… they could simply be musing, they could be suggesting that they’re intelligent, or, perhaps, they could even be a bit arrogant.

But given the second part of the sentence, that ‘third birthday’, it’s safe to say it’s likely they’re musing and that there is some intelligence there. A three-year-old predicting the future is, to my knowledge (but am I in a position to muse or be intelligent?), pretty rare. But we can’t say that for definite.

Apart from this, what do we learn? We learn that there could be a supernatural element to it, a three-year-old predicting the future. (I mean that in the literal sense – perhaps a child standing up at a family gathering and holding court.) The supernatural could instead be family members aiding the child – passing them a crystal for dousing and watching what happens, for example. Given ‘the future’ is there right near the start, here in this first line, we can ascertain that the story following this, or at least part of the story, will detail that future, which is interesting when you consider we haven’t heard about the past or present yet. (We’ll inevitably get to the past and present but I wonder if we ought to consider this a bold move, talking about the future when you’re just being introduced, though that does of course depend on what sort of future we’re talking about. I’ll leave that there – I think it’s pretty awesome regardless.) Lastly, we inevitably learn that, at least to some extent, this person has been waiting for this future in a way people generally don’t.

Who is this person? We’ve no idea really, but would it be fair to say we now definitely want to find out?

Christina Courtney’s Echoes Of The Runes (2020)

On the outermost tip of the peninsula, she waited and watched through the lonely hours of dawn, scanning the water as far as the eye could see for a glimpse of the familiar snake’s-head carving at the prow of his ship.

Book cover

With this line we could be anywhere… and then. Right up until those eight last words you could say it’s impossible to guess where and when this book is set. Where the book is set is still difficult, but with the snake’s head at the prow, this has got to be historical, in a time before modern boats, unless we look at the possibility that someone has recreated an old-fashioned boat, and I’m not going to go there with that because we could be here forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing 1500s, possibly 1600s, as the latest date for this ship. This character is ‘scanning the water as far as the eye could see’ – that could really be any time, as could the rest of it.

I like that you’ve no sense of time period until the end – at first I wondered what I might be able to say about it, but that ending is great – and I like that people who know more about ships might have a good insight as to the time period (and possibly location) by way of the snake’s head carving. The one thing I would venture to assume is that, as it’s a snake’s head, the man the character is waiting for might be a villain or in a position of power.

Peter Ho Davies’ The Fortunes (2016)

It was like riding in a treasure chest, Ling thought.

Book cover

First off, I must note that the above is the first line of the first of four semi-connected long-form stories – The Fortunes is effectively four novellas all on a similar (edging towards the same) theme as each other, not quite a fractured narrative, but running parallel to the idea.

Before this line comes two lines from American Titan by K Clifford Stanton about a man considering his Chinese ‘houseboy’. I checked both Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg as well as Google for this and cannot find any reference (I’m writing this after having recorded the podcast episode with Peter) so I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s factual versus from a novel, but let’s assume it’s non-fiction or a very fact-based fiction – as much as the Ling from The Fortunes is Ho Davies’, he’s Clifford Stanton’s.

It’s technically strange to look at it out of context but let’s do it: do we know where Ling is – no, we don’t, and if we remove the context of the included extract from Clifford Stanton, we don’t know when he is, either. But something significant has or is happening, whether a permanent life change or a simple moment, we don’t know. As a metaphor, a treasure chest strongly suggests extreme wealth, money. ‘Riding’ – a gold carriage, perhaps. The significance is the key here – Ling has not had this sort of experience before, and he has likely come from a very different background.

Midge Raymond’s My Last Continent (2016)

As I lead tourists from the Zodiacs up rocky trails to the penguin colonies, I notice how these visitors – stuffed into oversize, puffy red parkas – walk like the penguins themselves: eyes to the snowy ground, arms out for balance.

Book cover

This line doesn’t tell you exactly where, but you’ve a very good sense – penguins; parkas needed; even the penguins’ requirement for arms to be out for balance. Tourists, visitors – but this isn’t the zoo. Then add in the Zodiacs, which are inflatable boats – we’re by or in water.

There’s a lot to this sentence and in fact it sets you up with the themes and literary content rather than the character’s particular story, which is quite nice, though some of this is more vague in the sentence than the rest, for example, what are these people, these tourists doing here? And there’s a lot of different punctuation – is it too much, is it just right? It does keep you going and on track; it’s safe to say the amount of content in the sentence gives you a good idea for the location and general atmosphere, the social side of it, too. There’s also the alliteration, which suggests the weather is colder here, for the parkas to be ‘puffed’ rather than, simply, ‘parkas’, and the use of comparisons between humans and penguins.

Tracy Rees’ Darling Blue (2018)

All through that shimmering riverside summer of 1925 there seemed to be only one question on everyone’s lips: who was Blue Camberwell going to marry?

Book cover

Dare I say ‘boom – done’? This sentence tells you what is going to happen, and what you can expect, at least to some extent – how much depends on whether this Blue is the main character or one of many. Or perhaps those others, ‘everyone’, else is where our character(s) can be found, if you’ll pardon the poor grammar. Where – riverside; when – summer 1925 (hello Gatsby and co?); who – Blue. The ‘how’ is less definite, but we can speculate that it’s got something to do with dating.

Like Raymond above, Rees’ first line features alliteration that has a different first lettered word in between; in this case the ‘shimmering summer’ – as it’s 1925 it’s hard not to imagine glittering parties, glamour; certainly ‘shimmering’, whilst paired with ‘summer’ and ‘riverside’ speaks more to the era in general, even if it truly is about the water.

It’s interesting that the line ends on who Blue is going to marry; before we’ve even met Blue we’re told she’s important, very much so – ‘everybody’s lips’ surely points to the wider community than the family.

Conclusion

As I started working my way through these I found myself wanting to look at them more casually, in a bit more depth even if it meant more musing. But I also found myself comparing the lines to each other – they aren’t comparable, really, except in a literary sense. It is interesting to look at the metaphors and alliteration, especially, here, the alliteration, and how different authors use these aspects of language to get the sentence where they want it to be, where they want it to end up.

And I found myself wanting to read them out loud. I didn’t – I might have got some funny looks from two furry ones – but saying it in my head made for an interesting result. The words sounded great – I’ve always loved alliteration – but there’s an effect of reading them that I suppose can be likened to spoken poetry; you can appreciate the sounds and the meanings and it’s the meanings that become most apparent when spoken. Of course breaking the sentences into pieces always helps, but the sounding of it was new to me in the context of fiction, away from the idea of reading aloud in itself. I think I’ll have to explore it more.

What is the first line of the book you are reading at the moment?

 
 

Kelly

August 30, 2020, 9:31 pm

I enjoyed reading this post because I’m often influenced by the first line of a novel. (or even non-fiction)

Here’s how my current books gets started:

“Had I known my mother was being given electro-convulsive therapy while I was dressing for school on eight consecutive Monday mornings, I do not think I could have buttoned my blouses or tied my shoes or located my homework.” (Sights Unseen by Kaye Gibbons)

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