All this happened

February 20, 2011 at 11:38 am (Uncategorized)

When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from troubled dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous insect.

Franz Kafka, ‘The Metamorphosis’

The first time I read this story, I remember blinking, hard.  An insect? Kafka hooked me from the very first sentence and made me want to know more, more, more, until I’d drunk down the entire story.

I’m a sucker for dynamic first lines. Often, with a new book in my greedy hands, the first line tells me more than the blurb ever could, and many a spine has been placed back on a shelf if the opening doesn’t slide the sharp tip of its hook into me.

What better way to spend a lazy Sunday morning than in front of my bookshelf, flipping open curled covers? Black coffee, Jacques Brel crooning, and a pile of inky pages at my feet; bliss.  These are some of the opening lines in my collection that pulled me straight into the stories:

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.  – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

All this happened, more or less. – Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground

This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and decided she’d had enough. – Helen Zahavi, Dirty Weekend

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.  – George Orwell, 1984

 At the present time no-one I know has the slightest desire to hit Samuel Meredith.- F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Four Fists

 There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

There were 117 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna, and I’d been treated by at least six of them. –Erica Jong,  Fear of Flying

 The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. – William Gibson, Neuromancer

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

 

I often have first lines scribbled in my red notebook, and when a story finally spirals from one of them, the feeling is sublime. I’ve had this waiting for a month: There were three of them at the table, but only two knew.

Now, all I need to do is find out what they know.

I can’t wait.

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4 Comments

  1. holly said,

    That makes two of us, Belly Jean. My breath is baited.
    And, I completely agree. Is there any better hook than the one a literary first-liner pierces you with? As DBC Pierre said to a full house on campus recently: you’ve gotta have a fuck-off first sentence.
    And can I just say, I will be eternally indebted to Kafka for your ‘who’s going to ride the coachroaches now?’ that induced snort-worthy giggles to ring out over Canberra from my velour sofa.

  2. Michael said,

    I’m not sure if it’s a tryst, a heist or just the menu decisions but I’m it sounds intriguing.

  3. Lisa said,

    “It was the best of times it was the worst of times”, Tale of Two cities, Charles Dickens has always stuck in my mind for it is just so accurate. This line appeals to my duality. What a wonderful post darling, I enjoyed each first liner.

  4. gretchen cello said,

    Does “Say word” qualify as a tight opening verse? How I always seem to fall short darling… x

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