Tuesday, 9 November 2004

First Lines

I described in an earlier post the total lack of imagination which renders me incapable of writing a novel. But I did try once or twice, always to be overcome by a feeling of futility after penning a few depressing sentences.

I have recently been looking at the first lines of some highly successful pieces of writing to see if they have anything in common. They don’t, of course, except that they nearly all captured my interest in one way or another and made me want to read on, unlike my own attempts at opening sentences, which would make anybody want to close the book and do something else.

Here are twenty-five of them. Anyone who can identify (or guess at) the titles and authors of, say, fifteen is an ardent reader and has a good memory. This list wasn’t originally intended for a quiz so some are absurdly easy and others impossibly hard. Anyone who claims to know them all has either read the same books as I have or is a liar.

  • “We’re going through!” The Commander’s voice was like thin ice breaking.
  • The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls Royce Super Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers.
  • Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.
  • There were four of us – George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency.
  • The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s.
  • Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots smashed into my groin, and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life.
  • During the whole of a dull, dark and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country…
  • At the first glimpse of light the aerodrome wakes to life. As a matter of fact it never sleeps.
  • For several successive days, the scraps and tatters of a routed army had been moving through the city. (translation)
  • I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. If I call it a novel it is only because I don't know what else to call it. I have little story to tell and I end neither with a death nor with a marriage.
  • Twilight over meadow and water, the eve-star shining above the hill, and old Nog the heron crying kra-a-ark!..
  • It began with an advertisement in the Agony Column of the Times. I always read the Agony Column first and the news (if there is time) afterwards.
  • Madam, I sit down to give you an undeniable proof of my considering your desires as indispensable orders.
  • The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset.
  • Of course, I have no right whatsoever to write down the truth about my life, involving as it naturally does the lives of so many other people…
  • It is doubtful whether the gift was innate. For my own part, I think it came to him suddenly.
  • It is a curious thing that at my age—fifty-five last birthday—I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I wonder what sort of a history it will be when I have finished it, if ever I come to the end of the trip!
  • It is cold at six-forty in the morning of a March day in Paris, and it seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.
  • I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board, which I have padded with our dog's blanket and the tea-cosy.
  • The sky grew darker and darker as the morning wore on. By the time the coffee came round it was like a winter evening, and there were lights in all the windows that looked down on Hand and Ball Court.
  • "I wonder when in the world you're going to do anything, Rudolf?" said my brother's wife.
  • Wilson sat on the balcony of the Bedford Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork.
  • At daybreak Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse and stood for a moment in the porch looking up at the sky.
  • I am going to take you back a matter of four or five years ago to an August afternoon and the race track at Saratoga, which is a spot in New York state very pleasant to behold.
  • "The marvellous thing is that it's painless," he said, "that's how you know when it starts".

  • Answers are HERE


    Gerry said...

    You did that to make me look utterly stupid, didn't you Tony? Or am I just paranoid again? Sadly, but not surprisingly, I could pick none of those lines.

    Tony said...

    You wrong me, Gerry. Most of my friends didn't get any at all and the best score (by a teacher of English) was three. I wasn't trying to prove anything or offend Antipodean friends, just to have a bit of fun.

    Gerry said...

    Thank Goddess for that !!! :-)

    By the way, thanks for visiting my blog again. It was nice to see you there again. :-) (I know how much youlike smilies...) :-)

    Jamie said...

    What a list! I recognized the one from King Solomon's Mines, though I didn't remember the name of the book until I looked it up.

    And I didn't catch the others, though I have read The Prisoner of Zenda, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Boule de Suif (though I might not have if you hadn't recommended 'em), and of course I've read Chesterton!

    But what were YOU reading him for? An atheist like you?? I should think you'd brush Chesterton off as another of those annoying Christians and not bother with books at all!

    Tony said...

    Foolish child, you mean you never read books by non-Christians?. No, I suppose you don't.

    Froog said...

    I got the first five (although I was wondering - foolishly! - for a moment if Tinker, Tailor... wasn't Decline and Fall), and was feeling terribly pleased with myself - but then floundered rather.

    I recognised Steinbeck and Runyon without being able to place the story, and there were three or four more I should have got (perhaps if I'd read them within the last 20 years).

    Tony said...

    As you will see from my comment above, you did better than anyone else I know. But you now have a reputation to maintain: I shall be interested to hear how you make out with the other sets of questions posed under the tag quizzes.