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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?

 
Analyses Of First Lines #8

It has been a lot longer than I thought since I wrote one of these posts; I suppose I got confused, when looking, by the post on ending lines, which was recent. (Thank you again to Felicity and Kelly for your feedback on that; I’m still mulling over an alternative way of doing things there but it’s looking more and more unlikely I’ll continue it, which may be no bad thing.)

I’ve chosen today not to worry about numbers – I usually aim for five books – and instead to add that thinking time to refining the possibilities. As mentioned before, the books in these posts reflect what’s currently in my reading ‘sphere’ – new reads, reads just finished, review copies, and now podcast research – and there is naturally usually limited choice. With my recent letting go of reading ‘limits’ (I’ve currently about nine books on the go, but it’s still helping so I’m not changing it yet) there are plenty to choose from. I’ve opted for those that are most well-aligned to the concept of these posts. It’s been a lot of fun.

Diana Evans’ Ordinary People (2018)

To celebrate Obama’s election, the Wiley brothers threw a party at their house in Crystal Palace.

Book cover

We have an exact time – I reckon we can say from the information in the first part of the sentence that it would be in the days following Obama’s election, a few days past 4th November 2008. With the election cited, we also know that the story will take place in our real world. Crystal Palace (south London) – this party is for British people or American ex-pats. We have a good idea as to the politics of the Wiley brothers, who are celebrating a historic moment; we have a good insight into these brothers and the people at the party.

Isla Morley’s The Last Blue (2020)

Thirty-five years ago, Havens would have opened his eyes and thought of the day ahead as lacking

Book cover

A specific number of years – how old is Havens? I think we can assume he isn’t thirty-five; an incredibly young child isn’t going to recognise an adult’s day. It would be fair to suppose that Havens has got to be at least forty-five. Unless, of course, he’s comparing days in more of a historic, social, or/and cultural, manner.

That day that’s definitely not ‘lacking’ right now – something’s changed in those thirty-five years; changed in Havens’ opinions or in the world (certainly the idea of a day lacking or not has a bit more context right now with our ‘new normal’). In those years past, whatever Havens’ age, would this day that lies ahead be considered a routine one?

The line is a good one, pushing you to read further to find out what’s changed.

Nicholas Royle’s Mother: A Memoir (2020)

In my mind’s eye she is sitting at the circular white Formica-top table in the corner.

Book cover

With the inclusion of the Formica, Royle sets the scene in terms of era. He’s also specific with his detailing; this amount of detail for a table and its placement suggests, perhaps, a defining role later whether in terms of general inclusion or a single moment. The way the sentence is written certainly looks back to a specific moment that we can assume may be explored further than the expected few sentences more on the subject to come.

The opening of the line also suggests a look back, which you would expect for a memoir.

Terri Fleming’s Perception (2017)

It is an opinion widely held, that a young lady lacking prospects must dream of defying expectations.

Book cover

A line inspired by Austen (are we able to exclude the fact that this book is a sequel to the one the line is inspired by?) ‘Lacking prospects’ – a person without means; ‘defying’ – with a strength of character; ‘lady’… this woman is not wealthy but she has the spirit to become more.

Or so we assume – in fact, if it’s an opinion, even widely held, that doesn’t necessarily equate to the character herself, it is just that we know better, that a first line that is inspired by another first line that correctly infers what will happen is likely to be… likewise.

The use of expectations here – defy the expectation that she won’t marry well? After all, our man in possession of a good fortune was indeed in want of a wife. (I also like the simple fact of the word ‘expectations’ being used – when looking at this sentence for this post, studying it, it made me think of Pip and those great expectations. Fleming’s book is of course set in Austen’s period rather than Dickens’, but regardless the comparison may have something to it.)

Conclusion

Like last time there aren’t any links between these books. I’m not sure there will be going forward; my reading is necessarily more varied at the moment. Unlike last time and the times before, this will have to remain a short conclusion; creating this post has been pretty straight forward and, perhaps understandably, there is less to say on the subject itself. I suppose it will happen more and more as I continue.

What is the first line of the book you are currently reading?

 
Analyses Of Last Lines #1

I’d thought about it for a while: what to do about last lines? Having started to look at first lines, as I currently do on occasion, the idea of looking also at last lines occurred to me but I didn’t know where to start. Should I go back to my first line beginnings and study the last lines of those same books? That would constitute quite an undertaking, be a very long post, and whilst I’d enjoy it, would my readers like it? Should I just start as I did the first lines, taking books that were currently in my ‘sphere’ and work from there? Or should I – this idea just in and I’m mulling it over – look at first and last lines of books concurrently?

The one thing about that last, latest, idea – it could get confusing. I was edging towards number two – starting at relative random.

But Covid’s come along and whilst I was struggling, the nice weather has arrived and it’s helped. The on-again-off-again break has done me good: I’m raring to go. And my head really likes the idea of going back to all those books, trawling through them, and comparing. So I’m going to look back at the books whose first lines I’ve covered, just not all at once.

It won’t be every book – some books were borrowed from the library and I don’t have access to them, and there are a few wherein the lines are either not stellar or (more often) too woven into the story’s context to make sense away from it. That is of course one big difference between first and last lines.

Anne Melville’s The Daughter Of Hardie (1988)

As the sun rose higher in the sky, there was nothing to suggest that 23 July 1932 was to be anything other than the most ordinary of days.

Book cover

This is obviously setting up for a sequel, and it gives you an idea as to where the story might go (and, without concept, perhaps where the story has been, too). There’s a potential foreboding – or is it the complete opposite? Either way, whether read out of context or in it, it’s a good line; interestingly it’s more of a first line; it certainly works well as one.

Ben Fergusson’s The Spring Of Kasper Meier (2014)

And the ship groaned gently, rising and falling, rolling softly in the icy black water.

Book cover

Minor interlude: this line reminded me of Fitzgerald’s “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” A comparison between Fergusson’s book and The Great Gatsby would, I feel, be of little merit; the one thing that can be said in our context is that Fitzgerald has his – or, rather, Nick’s – eyes on what has been, whereas Fergusson is potentially looking at the future. (The darkness and ‘groaning’ of Fergusson’s book is in the context of the story set in German WWII.)

Fergusson’s final line here offers both an ending and a continuation, ‘rising and falling’, and it must be said that the book is the first in a series. It offers something perhaps sinister, chilling, perhaps a bit more hopeful – a groaning ship, particularly one doing it ‘gently’ is not necessarily a bad thing. As a last line it is as gentle as the ship, it flows smoothly, and it leaves you with a potentially eerie image in mind, not being quite a completion.

Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Heir Of Redclyffe (1853)

Still there was one who never could understand why others should think him stern and severe, and why even his own children should look up to him with love that partook of distant awe and respect, one to whom he never was otherwise than indulgent, nay, almost reverential, in the gentleness of his kindness, and that was Mary Verena Morville.

Book cover

This line perhaps shows a lack of change of the person whose society confuses Mary. Or perhaps – likely, given the book’s title, this speaks of a romantic couple; a grouchy male heir who no one else understands?

In a vacuum, it’s easy to wonder at the true character of the man. Do his children love him? It seems this may be what Yonge is saying, and in this way the line, in a vacuum, can invite us to look closer.

Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen (2015)

I opened my eyes, cleared my throat, and started all over again.

Book cover

Obioma takes us back to the beginning, be it the beginning of the book itself or a smaller story that’s being told within it. Does the way it goes back to the beginning suggest a thoughtful story?

Is the current situation difficult, those closed eyes, now open? It sounds an important situation that the character is in.

Conclusion

There is a second reason for going back – as I looked at the last lines, I inevitably compared the ‘success’, in its many literary definitions, of each book’s first and last lines and found a lot of merit in the comparison. Last lines are often more interesting than the first; whilst in many books both are good, those books where the start isn’t as strong do often have strong last lines, which is pretty fascinating. The opening of the book is where you first draw the reader in, so in a way it’s surprising. (The ending is sometimes read by potential readers – I do this sometimes – but in the strictest of senses, it shouldn’t be.) But of course by the last line you have far more reader knowledge to draw from to inform it, and tidying ends up is very important. Last lines are also more likely to be clever compared to first lines; for just one example, consider ending lines that in someway cycle back to the beginning of the book.

To me, the whole concept warranted doing what I’m going to do. I may not always compare, but the mere fact of it made me want to give the previously-used books a second innings. However, and this is a big however, this is still somewhat of an experiment as I work through the general ‘usability’ of last lines.

Does this concept work or should I stick to first lines?

 
Analyses Of First Lines #7

Five years ago I wrote about not being able to truly engage with a book until a couple of pages in. Back then I attributed it to both excitement and being overwhelmed but now I can say that whilst overwhelm is always present for some reason – a lengthy book, a highly-rated author – excitement isn’t always a factor. I can, now, also say that it’s less of a problem with ebooks. Reading an ebook, whilst you have page numbers available, you haven’t that stack of pages on the right hand side, and you can’t feel the heaviness that a stack of pages creates. I think the overwhelm is also trepidation, most often to do with an author you’ve not read before. ‘What am I getting into and will it be fun?’ This has been a factor in my reading of Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be The Place. It took four pages, then I noticed the writing, the attention to making the American character read as American, and the overall atmosphere of the book. I knew that O’Farrell is a favourite of many. But I hadn’t known why.

The book inspired this edition of my close reading series. It’s actually my third attempt at reading it, spanning almost a year, but with good reason – a reader who unfortunately still needs a fair bit of quiet, my attempts to read at the library, once when waiting for others and a second time during a busy period, meant that I took very little in. I had considered moving on but I was drawn a third time; this time I borrowed it and the third time, complete with a different environment proved to be the charm.

Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be The Place (2016)

There is a man.

Book cover

O’Farrell begins on the page with a name, location, and year (Daniel, Donegal, 2010); the first line follows. So, in effect, her first sentence is bolstered by extra information. But many authors do this – it’s used to tell you where you are, and with whom, most often when there is more than one narrator or focus character. A regular first name, a place in Ireland, and the year – six years before publication – simply gives you a briefing for what you’ll find out very soon.

Read without any context, the first line is still useful. In fact it’s fantastic. Are we reading first or third person? Maybe it’s second. We’ve only four words to go on and a full stop that is objectively very normal but subjectively, here, almost a word in itself. There is a man… and nothing else. There’s a man – cool? There’s a man – so what, men make up roughly half of humanity. But what is definite is the ominous tone, a tone that says there could be something to worry about here, four words and a full stop alone on a line.

Leaving the vacuum and considering the stage setting, if the man is Daniel then O’Farrell is narrating in that particular manner perhaps best known as a children’s literature device, description written in a specific, immersive, way. If it’s not Daniel, then Daniel is probably telling a story.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming (2018)

Preface: When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple.
Chapter One: I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.

Book cover

I’ve included both first lines in this case as it’s hard to decide exactly which ‘should’ be the absolute first. I’ve also included them because there is a highly literary aspect joining them: the preface sentence makes a statement and – though perhaps this is subjective, certainly it’s less definite – Chapter One’s sentence back that statement up. This was no accident. Moreover, both sentences set up who Obama is and was, and it also gives you a good idea of what her book will be about beyond her time as First Lady. (This is likely going to be more the case if you’re not American.) Chapter One’s sentence puts Obama in the position of hard worker, which you would have expected already, but the Preface’s sentence suggests in addition (though coming first) that her path to the White House still surprises to her. At the same time, the construction of the Preface’s sentence, with that pause after ‘when I was a kid’, allows you to assume change – she may well have evolved her aspirations as she got older.

It’s no surprise the book opens with a strong statement, but the detail involved… I wouldn’t mind analysing a few more snippets from this book because when read in a regular fashion the whole extent of the nuance is missed, as it can be in any book. Is it perhaps better in audiobook form, with Obama reading? That’s likely.

Charlotte Mary Yonge’s The Heir Of Redclyffe (1853)

The drawing-room of Hollywell House was one of the favoured apartments, where a peculiar air of home seems to reside, whether seen in the middle of summer, all its large windows open to the garden, or, as when our story commences, its bright fire and stands of fragrant greenhouse plants contrasted with the wintry fog and leafless trees of November.

Book cover

Very much of its time, this lengthy sentence provides both more and not enough information; there is nothing to tell us what the book is about beyond the class status of a/some characters and the season. It tells us of the House, which may be the main setting, and the characters’ love of the drawing room. The sentence sets a scene but it’s scenic rather than functional, all description; it works in the context of the easy-going lengthy books of the period.

Anne Melville’s The Daughter Of Hardie (1988)

On a day of Indian summer in 1898 Richard Beverley, Marquess of Ross, travelled to Oxford to see his great-grandchildren for the first and last time.

Book cover

In terms of details, everything is here, including a glimpse of the social standing likely in play. There’s a note on the domestic situation – whilst this book is a sequel and thus you probably know about the family already, the fact it’s children rather than child suggests the Marquess waited a while to see them. Readers of book one know the answer. New readers don’t but could make a good guess.

The use of ‘Indian summer’ is interesting: it doesn’t appear to have a ‘proper’ reason for being there, but can we presume a use of pathetic fallacy, despite the Marquess’ noted demise, that suggests something good to come?

Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends (2017)

Bobbi and I first met Melissa at a poetry night in town, where we were performing together.

Book cover

In her usage of ‘we first met’, Rooney presents a possible conflict or thriller-esque point to be handled later in the form of the consequences of meeting Melissa, but the main takeaway here is that the author provides us with a who, what, where, and a specific ‘where’ at that. That it’s a poetry night performance – most often small and local if my experience is anything to go by – suggests that this book is going to be a book about books or, if not, at the very least literary. Also of note is the use of ‘Bobbi and I’, grammar that has fallen out of favour as incorrect. It could simply be how Rooney talks – certainly the mainstream shift is recent – or it could be an illustration of the way the narrator speaks.

We have a Bobbi, who the narrator knows, and a Melissa, but we’re yet to know who is talking.

Conclusion

Often there is a link, however small, between the books I’ve selected for these posts, but this time there isn’t. (I select books that are in my sphere at the time so any similarities are just a reflection of what I might by studying.) Beyond the fact that two are set in the 1800s (one contemporary, one historical) and that two are award winners, there is nothing to really compare. What does stand out, purely from the vast difference in dates between the Yonge and the others, is the fact that preferences and trends for first lines have changed and evolved – but we knew that anyway. I think there is a lot to be argued in favour of the way first lines were written in decades past but Yonge’s example here is an argument against them; it’s got that easy-going atmosphere, as said above, but it lacks further points of interest.

What these books have done, particularly the first two, is make me even more interested in looking at other lines; I’ve considered end lines (I’d like to go through the books for which I’ve studied first lines and look at how they end so long as the ends are not spoilers) but I’m also starting to like the idea of the middle lines or lines from a certain page number. But it could be the most tedious thing ever. It needs more thought.

What lines from recent reads have stayed with you?

 
Analyses Of First Lines #6

January has brought with it an interesting mix of older and new books. One such book is brand new – I received Sofie Laguna’s The Choke a few days ago, to some surprise. Together with the feeling of freshness, the new year has brought with it a renewed enthusiasm for new releases, and while I’m not going to make any promises in regards to this particular book, I will likely read and review it.

There is one book absent from this list that really should be on it as it’s a current read, but the line was dull and I’ve written enough about Eloisa James’ novels recently. It did however bring up an interesting question – when there are sentences before the narrative, such as those that set the scene, when or where exactly does a book begin?

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

When people ask me what I do – taxi drivers, dental hygienists – I tell them I work in an office.

Book cover

Like the entirety of the book, if I may be so bold as to bring my general opinion into this post, Honeyman’s first line is a feat of writing, providing not only background detail but personality, mood, and a sense of what will follow. Starting her book with a question put to the narrator by ‘people’, which the content within the dashes shows includes familiars and complete strangers, points to a likelihood of the narrator having a passive role in either his/her life or society in general. The use of ‘taxi drivers, dental hygienists’ implies that the narrator doesn’t have people close to them – we often use ‘people’, but rarely spell out who ‘people’ includes.

And so, with these named categories of people, we can assume that there may be a gap somewhere between this person and society – perhaps they don’t get on with others, or perhaps they’re very introverted. In this vein, the choice of categories is interesting, suggesting the person goes to medical appointments and perhaps nowhere else or very few other places; the taxi takes them to the dentist. They likely do not drive.

Why ‘an office’? Is the job too complex and the narrator became bored with trying to explain it? Are they embarrassed by their job? Or do they perhaps just not want to tell anyone or make conversation?

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

I cast no shadow.

Book cover

The character may be a ghost, or perhaps a person who is rarely or never noticed; the sort of opinion given here in first-person echoes a child’s feelings – perhaps their family is dysfunctional. Other options include fantasy-type characters, thieves, or animals.

Looking past the pronoun, we see a situation of either promise of worry. While ‘cast’ can be past tense, it’s quite likely we’re looking at a situation happening at present – someone hiding from something or someone for a reason not yet revealed to us. It’s not the most informative of lines, but it sets the scene well enough.

The Choke by Sofie Laguna

Kirk turned his slingshot over in his hand.

Book cover

Continuing on the theme of likely young narrators, Laguna’s first line called to my mind To Kill A Mockingbird – there may not be a slingshot in the opening pages of Lee’s tale, but Laguna’s set up of a child about to be hurt, struck me as similar. Unlike Jem and his sport-related injury, however, here we have either a mischievous child or, more likely given the weapon, the beginnings of a scene of bullying. A bully who is taking his time, either simply drawing it out or about to start some cruel talk. It’s not going to be an easy page to read.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali

An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen’s life began – began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly – her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly.

Book cover

This first line sports names that give you an idea as to the possible locations for this book, however, prior to it, the location and date are included under the chapter heading, so we already know we’re in Pakistan, 1967. What the line does provide is a bit of the family culture we’re likely dealing with. Ali’s use of em dashes and the content between them, suggests that Nazneen may be on the ‘hook’ for something for a fair length of her childhood. (We already know Rupban’s labour was an hour and forty five minutes.) We’re looking at the prospect of some of the story dealing with elements of Nazneen’s future life that stem from her birth – perhaps a running joke or constantly retold anecdote she has to hear.

There’s another possible story element hinted at: Nazneen’s strength. The use of ‘iron fist’ could suggest strength of character.

White Truffles In Winter by N M Kelby

That last summer, the kitchen reeked of pickling spice, aniseed and juniper berries.

Book cover

Three foods, if we lump ‘spices’ into one for a moment and consider aniseed and juniper in their own right. Just what you want from a book that has food in its title. The use of ‘summer’ here, contrasted with the Winter of the title, suggests that winter may bring with it a big change. And the use of past tense and ‘last’, which is likely about a previous season rather than any finality, suggests winter will indeed be in the spotlight.

Whether or not Kelby means us to see the aniseed and juniper as the two ‘spices’ of the sentence, we have some strong smells and tastes here. I looked up the two together to see if Kelby was meaning us to read more into the combination – there’s a slight possibility of Scandinavia (a salmon dish that uses the two spices, amongst others) or alcohol, though the second is more of a guess. Wherever we are, we’re looking at a licorice-smelling kitchen – something quite a lot different to truffles!

Conclusion

As I started to put these first lines into an order I noticed a similarity; whilst the fact that three lines dealt with the likely subject of childhood, they all also had a potential in them regarding the role of the parent. A child who might be invisible; a child who might be bullied but might be experiencing abuse; a child whose parents may see them in a certain way. It’s interesting how comparisons can be drawn between the most unlikely stories; Elmet and The Choke do appear to be similar, at least in regards to what the blurbs say, but Brick Lane is mostly about an immigrant’s experience. I have a want, almost, to write something about all this, but it would be difficult to find the angle.

I note this ‘finding’ because it relates to something else I’m currently working on, a character study inspired by a conversation about another character, the context of each being vastly different and requiring comment. Similarities can come from the most unlikely of subjects, but sometimes it can be interesting to accept the strangeness, consider it, and continue.

 

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