The Albion Beatnik Bookstore website (or how a bookshop can change a light bulb)

The web page of the Albion Beatnik Bookstore in Oxford: muses and misspills on books, jazz, poetry, stuff like false flags and smoke screen: is randomly decrepid and is neo-bankrupt: is so analogue it's anal.

Opening Lines

I recently posted online my two favourite opening lines from novels:

earthlypowersEarthly Powers, Anthony Burgess: “It was the afternoon of my eighty-fifth birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. That is, my feet are in it; the rest of me is on the draining board…”

There is a whiff of my autobiography in the first; no hint of that in the second because my feet’s too big. But either are so much better than L.P Hartley’s so often quoted, book of quotations anthologized, opening sentence from The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

This posting flushed out the following further suggestions from friends, though one is from a poem, another is from a short prose piece:

unhoursUnguarded Hours, A.N. Wilson: “Had the Dean’s daughter worn a bra that afternoon, Norman Shotover might never have found out about the Church of England; still less about how to fly.”

Dancer from the Dance, Andrew Holleran: “It’s finally spring down here on the Chattahoochee – the azaleas are in bloom, and everyone is dying of cancer.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: “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.”

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.'”

New Grub Street, George Gissing: “As the Milvains sat down to breakfast the clock of Wattleborough parish church struck eight; it was two miles away, but the strokes were borne very distinctly on the west wind this autumn morning. Jasper, listening before he cracked an egg, remarked with cheerfulness: ‘There’s a man being hanged in London at this moment.'”

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

Casino Royale, Ian Fleming: “The scent smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Murphy, Samuel Beckett: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: “Lolita, love of my life, fire of my loins.”

calvinoIf on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, Italo Calvino: “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller.”

Such is Life, Tom Collins: “Unemployed at last!”

Less than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis: “People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles.”

Damage, Josephine Hart: “There is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”

Knoxville: Summer of 1915, James Agee: “We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.”

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon: “A screaming comes across the sky.”

The Crow Road, Iain Banks: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”

L’Étranger, Albert Camus: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.”

portraaitA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.”

High-Rise, J.G. Ballard: “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”

The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson: “We were somewhere around Barstow when the drugs began to take hold…”

gibsonNeuromancer, William Gibson: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Jaws, Peter Benchley: “The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.”

Ulysses, James Joyce: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers: “There were two mutes in the town and they were always together.”

A Pact, Ezra Pound: “I make a truce with you, Walt Whitman:  /  I have detested you long enough”

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This entry was posted on 11th January 2017 by in books, opening lines, Uncategorised and tagged , .
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