My brother Jack does not come into the story straight away.
Opening line, My Brother Jack, George Johnston, 1964
A great first line that lets the reader know he’ll have to read on for a while before encountering the man of the title, Jack.
It’s a story about an Australian bloke who is a likeable larrikin, tough and uneducated, but it’s also about the effect of war-damaged parents on their children. The father is a sapper and the mother an army nurse who have had roles in World War 1, on the Front, and who have now returned to suburban life. On Anzac Day this week I thought of my own father and grandfather, veterans of the two world wars, who also returned to the dullness of suburbia, bringing with them troubled minds as shell-shocked soldiers.
The soldiers marching this week in the Anzac parade in Yass looked clean and smart, untroubled.
I liked seeing the odd ones in this group, a New Zealander with a red-banded flat-brimmed hat, and a Fijian in a beret and three-quarter trousers, his muscly arms almost too big for his sleeves, catching sight of me catching sight of him as he adjusted his belt. I was also amused by the Australian soldier to his left, looking at something under his arm that was not quite right…
The phrase ‘many grandparents ago’ is a brilliant way of defining time for Australian descendants of immigrants. For me, it’s a great opener to an unsettling story.
The Rabbits is a fable about two things multiplying prolifically in this country: rabbits and non-Indigenous people. John Marsden is cryptically commenting on the coincidence of the human and rabbit population explosion since the arrival of the British in 1788. The illustrator Shaun Tan produced quite disturbing images for the award-winning book destined for older children but for us adults too.
This week, I read two conflicting things. I read The Rabbits with my adult student who has come here from across the seas, and explained to her the problem caused by introducing these cute fluffy creatures into Australia. And also this week I read this advertisement near my house:
Dennis Aubrey at Via Lucis commented that his favourite opening line is this one from the short story Red Wind.
It’s somewhat relevant today with the wind howling outside my window. Not that’s it’s a desert wind. More of an inland mountain wind blowing dust over our city from the drought-stricken west, blighting our mountain view with a grey haze.
Chandler’s opening continues grimly:
“It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.”
Has he got your attention? Philip Marlowe, private detective, is going to a bar for a beer, but someone has to die.
Thanks Dennis for introducing me to Philip Marlowe. I liked his references to the hot wind through the narration. ‘Outside the wind howled’; ‘… he looked cool as well as under a tension of some sort. I guessed it was the hot wind.’; ‘The wind was making enough noise to make the hard quick rap of .22 ammunition sound like a slammed door…’; ‘The wind was still blowing, oven-hot, swirling dust and torn paper up against the walls.’
Confession: after the third chapter, I couldn’t go on. Too many guns.