The best opening lines from novels

1.  You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go. — Dr. Suess, Oh The Places You’ll Go. (1990)       2. Call me Ishmael. — Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851) 3. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813) 4. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) 5. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa) 6. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955) 7. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett) 8. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus… Continue reading

Remembrance Day

 Today is Remembrance Day,   November 11 . We are to remember all those who died in war, all those injured, all those who survived. Yet sometimes it seems more like a celebration, a parade. Yes, it’s good that it’s over, but was the war really necessary? Where are the regrets for the war? Wouldn’t it be better to try harder to prevent war? Of course that is no easy task. But war  must always be the last choice. “And if I could, I would send you a bone. Not to call you to war, but away from it. Something you cannot avoid seeing, touching. Something to make the blood on our hands visible, unmistakable. A limb, a shoulder, a hunk of flesh dripping real blood, from the rubble beneath the bulldozer, the doorstep, from the child shot dead in the gunfight or buried under the house, from the bomb shelters of Baghdad and from the bloody busses of Tel Aviv. A bone red with blood to say: This is what colonization requires: blood soaked sand, holy earth defiled with death, human sacrifice.” — STARHAWK Below are two poems from Wilfred Owen, an English soldier, sent off to die in… Continue reading

TROUBLE ON THE TENTH FLOOR

Book Review: EYRIE by TIM WINTON This is a splendid novel. The story is focussed on the life of a burnt-out, incapacitated, environmentalist, Keely. He has fallen into political disgrace, untrustworthy, cast aside, defiled, and divorced. He feels old and defeated, living on the tenth floor of a run-down high-rise building near the Fremantle wharves. He is existing from day to day, drinking his life away, swallowing an assortment of prescription drugs, just waiting for the end. One day he meets a woman, Gemma, who lives on the same 10th floor with a six-year-old boy. She recognises him from an earlier time, when they were both children living in Blackboy Crescent, neighbours in another life. Gemma, now in her early forties, is brash, street-hard, tough-talking, and busy minding her six-year-old grandson — while her daughter is in prison for drug crimes. The child is strange, intelligent, and knowing far beyond his years, but takes a shine to Keely. The child troubles Keely when he sees him carelessly playing on the 10th floor balcony, climbing onto the railing, the grandmother unperturbed. The three of them make a barely-functioning alliance. Keely thinks the boy might have autism or Asperger’s syndrome. There’s something… Continue reading

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Fiction It is more than 30 years since I first read this book, yet I still remember the feelings, the location of where and when I read it. Rabbit, Run was quite a revelation to readers in those days. One of the first non-pornographic books to use the F-word, the C-word, and to give detailed descriptions of sex; not just the details, but brought it down to earth, into practical realms. It was not the “swearing” that made Rabbit, Run popular, it was the descriptive passages, the conflict, the foolish actions of the characters that caught our attention. It is not a story of people from Wall St, the FBI, or Harvard. It is a story of ordinary people — just like those who live in your street. You might not like them, but they are real people. The story is set in 1959 in Pennsylvania. The protagonist, “Rabbit” Harry Angstrom, is not particularly likeable, nor is his wife Janice. This is not a story about heroes, but about defective humans. In the first few pages we find Janice, pregnant, sitting at home watching The Mickey Mouse Club, drinking, smoking, with the house in a state of disorder. Their toddler,… Continue reading