Day 18 – Favorite beginning scene in a book
Soooo many good beginnings. Here are four favourites:
“The trouble started the day Howard came home from school to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen.” (Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones)
DWJ kicks arse at openings. In this one, the first novel of hers that I knowingly read and the one that set me on an addiction that would continue for more than a decade, the first chapter sets up the situation: Howard and his sister Awful come home to find a ‘goon’ in their kitchen. He has come from someone called Archer, and he is demanding payment of ‘two thousand’ from their Dad. By the end of the chapter we have learned that the payment is two thousand words, not pounds, and that Archer farms power. It will take the whole book to discover exactly what all those things mean.
“When the girl came rushing up the steps, I decided she was wearing far too many clothes. It was late summer. Rome frizzled like a pancake on a griddle-plate. People unlaced their shoes but had to keep them on; not even an elephant could cross the streets unshod. People flopped on stools in shadowed doorways, bare knees apart, naked to the waist – and in the backstreets of the Aventine Sector where I lived, that was just the women. I was standing in the Forum. She was running. She looked overdressed and dangerously hot, but sunstroke or suffocation had not yet finished her off. She was shining and sticky as a glazed pastry plait, and when she hurtled up the steps of the Temple of Saturn straight towards me, I made no attempt to move aside. She missed me, just. Some men are born lucjy; others are called Didius Falco.”
(The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis)
A Philip Marlowe style detective in the mean streets of Ancient Rome. Lindsey Davis had me at hello. But this paragraph beautifully introduces the dry, self-deprecating voice of Falco the informer, and the powerful character of the city of Rome, which (soft-shoeing on the subject of slavery aside) she conveys quite beautifully.
“The world is full of little towns that people want to leave, and scarcely know why.”
(Growing Rich, Fay Weldon)
I only love two Fay Weldon novels, and I came to both of them from excellent TV productions – the other is Big Women, which has a more convoluted opening but rather beautifully uses as it’s theme the iconic phrase ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’. Growing Rich introduces its three protagonists by page 2: three sixteen-year-old girls, Carmen the leader, Laura the pretty one and Annie who was quite desperate. They long to escape from their small town of Fenedge, East Anglia, and the Devil has already overheard their complaints while speeding by in his shiny black car. This is basically, now I come to think of it, The Witches of Eastwick with teenage girls, and none of the characters are entirely likeable, but it’s a book that has always had a powerful hold over me.
“I’m standing on the door of the Less is More club, thinking about my fingernails.”
(Fabulous Nobodies, Lee Tullock)
Long before Ab Fab or Gossip Girl, Reality Nirvana Tuttle (Really for short) trained me to adore shallow characters who were obsessed with artifice and fashion, as long as they did it with humour. This book, full of frocks named after famous divas, best friends who think they are Audrey Hepburn, clubs and magazines and nail polish, was one of my favourites and total comfort reads for many years. Unlike Tam Lin, I’m a little afraid to actually reread it now, in case I learn something about myself that I don’t want to know.
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