54 great opening lines: 44

What actually woke him was the unearthly sound itself – a mournful shatter of frozen midnight falling to earth to pierce his heart and lodge there forever, never to move, never to melt – but he, being who he was, assumed it was his bladder.

The Crane Wife, Patrick Ness


This morning my daughter-in-law, who works in a bookshop or two, offered me three novels new on the market.  I turned each one over and read the blurb;  this one tells me nothing about the book but says simply ‘Patrick Ness is an insanely beautiful writer’, which made us laugh and look for proof.  Then we read the opening line, which was poetically wet but not beautiful, but I’m now at the end of the chapter and have found that, so far, Ness does indeed write beautiful words.  I’ll hold my judgement on how insane the beauty is.

Update:  I’ve just finished this novel and found it almost unputdownable.  A sub-story weaving through it is a bit other-worldly for me, and towards the end there’s a particular drama which continues for some pages but which is not resolved.  Yet I have to agree that Patrick Ness is a gifted writer.

54 great opening lines: 43

Henry Holden decided to get an Italian prisoner-of-war after he had seen several at work on Esmond’s farm.

The Enthusiastic Prisoner, E. O. Schlunke


Another short story by Schlunke, the author of The Irling which I wrote about a couple of days ago.  This line, beginning with a very Australian name, Henry Holden, caught my attention particularly when I saw it was about an Italian P.O.W.  It triggered thoughts of some photos from my father’s war album of Italians taken prisoner by Australian soldiers.  Many of the P.O.W.s were shipped to Australia and placed in camps, and their services were offered to local farmers who greatly benefited from the Italians’ excellent knowledge of food production.  There is a photo I posted some time ago of a stream of Italians heading towards their captor’s camp.  There’s also this image of a suave bunch posing for the camera:

Italian soldiers, North Africa, c1941
Italian soldiers, North Africa, c1941

54 great opening lines: 42

I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë


A joyless book.  I recently read it a second time in search of at least one happy moment but found none.  Flicking through the book today, I came across passage after passage of violent thoughts.  Take these three:
* ‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.’
* He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears.
* The charge exploded, and the knife, in springing back, closed into its owner’s wrist. Heathcliff pulled it away by main force, slitting up the flesh as it passed on, and thrust it dripping into his pocket.

(The first line actually begins with the date 1801, but my WordPress theme formed a large block letter of the first character which made the date look ridiculous.)

54 great opening lines: 41

While old Kronitz’s youngest son Waltie was being born without qualified assistance, the old man paced the veranda that ran around all four sides of his large, bungalow-style house, annoyed with his wife for her bad judgement after all her experience, and refusing to admit that he should have sent for the community’s wise woman sooner, even at the risk of having to pay her for a whole day while she did nothing but talk.

The Irling, E.O. Schlunke


Quite a long opener of a two-sentence paragraph in a tale composed of many two-long-sentence paragraphs.  Old Kronitz dreads the irling, a mysterious twinkling light appearing on the south side of his farm during Waltie’s birth and which had appeared to his ancestors in the forests and swamps of Czestochowa in Poland.  Years later a drama develops when a fat Bavarian who considers himself an educated man arrives in Australia and buys the neighbouring property.  I was surprised by such a story about a Pole and a German, published in 1955.  It’s not hard to see where the author’s sympathies lay.

54 great opening lines: 40

Helen of Troy awakes just before dawn to the sound of air raid sirens.

Olympos, Dan Simmons


This is science fiction, from my husband’s bookshelf;  I’ve been searching his collection for something new to read.  The opening line got me in and I continued reading the rest of the page.  That was enough.  I’m not a sci-fi kind of girl.  But when I told him I’d chosen this book, he looked away, chuckled quietly and said, “Ah yes, that was a good one.”

If I haven’t read any novels by Dan Simmons, I can still make a connection through a great article about translation which he wrote and which I read and which was helpful to me when I was a translation student.

54 great opening lines: 39

It was a dejected-looking little tropical town situate some forty miles or more up a hot muddy river that wound back and forward, and back again, and round about as no river ever wound and serpentined before.

The Deeply Poetic Account of a Midsummer Night’s Idyll, James Edmond


By the time I reached the last word of this opening line I was already rapt.  It’s an indication of my taste in literature that this line resembles the one I posted yesterday, the opener from John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.  Yet they were decades and continents apart, these two authors:  the Scottish-Australian James Edmond published his story in 1913 (in his collection A Journalist and Two Bears) and the American Steinbeck published his in 1937.

54 great opening lines: 38

A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.

Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck


This was a title on a ‘must read’ booklist.  I’ve forgotten where and when I read the list, but I haven’t forgotten the book.  As I began reading, I thought: I don’t know where Soledad is, nor the Salinas River, but if it runs deep and green I want to go there.  I couldn’t stop reading, and when the end came and I had to, I passed it on to a son who reads very little, yet he, too, read it without stopping.  We had been moved equally but differently by certain lines or twists.  Afterwards, we both asked ourselves the same questions:  ‘Was that acceptable? What would I have done in his shoes?’

54 great opening lines: 37

Marley was dead: to begin with.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens


I love a story with a good moral, the type of story with a bad character who turns good;  it’s a formula based on the possibility that no one is without hope.  I read such stories to be spurred on.  The film Groundhog Day gives me the same buzz:  Phil the weatherman is a modern Scrooge who cares for no one and shares nothing, but against their will they both learn how good generosity can feel.  Of course, my hopes are bridled by the fiction of a character being shown, in one night, the cause and effect of his misery…

54 great opening lines: 35

When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien


There couldn’t be a better start to a sequel to The Hobbit.