Thursday, February 02, 2006

First lines

Here's a link to the list of the 100 best first lines in the history of a novel. Some are good, some are not, but I don't think the idea was to gather up lines that hook a reader. A good opening line may be something entirely else. It can also alienate the reader.

But I especially like the evocative noir of Paul Auster's City of Glass:

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.

One of my favourites (not in the list) is the long sentence in the beginning of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, even though it's not very tight:

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as, on Christmas Eve in an old house, a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to say that it was the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.

My best opening line comes from an unpublished novel called Blood Orgy of the Void God:

Satan woke up in a cold sweat.

I also like - who doesn't - the Call Me Ishmael of Moby Dick, but it just makes me think of the perhaps apocryphal opening line "Call me, Ishmael". (Which in turn reminds me of the Finnish Aino Räsänen's legendary novel Call Me, Helena. (And its sequel And Helena Called... (Although it's actually about playing a violin...)))


pHinn said...

One of the most memorable beginnings in a novel is of course in Arto Salminen's "Paskateoria"...

Juri said...

Quote, man, quote!

pHinn said...

"Tapansa kullakin: Jasmine pieri nussiessaan." Happy?

Juri said...

To each his own: Jasmine farted while she was fucking.

Yes, I'm extremely happy.

jukkahoo said...

Like you say, some of these 100 Best First Lines from novels seem to be there solely on the merit of being from good or great books.

"Call me, Ishmael" is of course from Peter de Vries' nominal comedy "The Vale of Laughter" (1953), but where's "Call me Jonah" from?

I like Thomas Mann's Buddenbooks beginning quite a bit: "And - and - what comes next?"

And J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan is half bad either: "All children, except one, grow up."

But my choice must be this one: "Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin."

Woerd Up: I was falling asleep in front of my telly, where some insanely thin and at the same time muscular men and women were advertising some new gym-gimmick called "Abtjx", evidently for those of us who need both great abs AND longer penises.

MAN, this is HARD! Trying to post this for more than an hour now.

New Woerd Up: "Sir, we have contacted the new alien race Commander C'ody told us about!", hailed the comm. Silently muttering under his breath, Fleet Captain jtqqc cursed those pesky Earthlings.

Juri said...

Only Jonah I can think of is (besides Jonah Hex) Jonah of the Weezer song.

Where are the other quotes from? Answer, you vqmko!

jukkahoo said...

What other quotes? You don't know Edward Bear?

"Call me Jonah" is from Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle.

Woerd: Jostain syystä Kaarlo kirjoitti osoitteensa aina ilman vokaaleita: Vkhkj 6, 04400 Jrvnp. Kumma heppu. Kmm hpp.

Ah, you mean those in italics? They're mine. I actually announced somewhere in this very same blog that I'd start using the verification words in a sentence.

Juri said...

Ei tätä kukaan enää täällä lue, mutta totean vain, että hieno keksintö tuo woerd up -juttu! Fiylj to you!