Opening lines good and bad

I've just finished re-reading one of my favourite books: White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Please do yourself a favour and read this book; it is intelligent, colourful, rich and hilarious! Among the multifarious (I learned a new word, you like? You don't do you? I sound like one of those first year university kids who use the word "erroneous" instead of "incorrect" or "wrong" in their tutorial oral presentations. We all know that no-one actually talks like this!) things that I love about White Teeth are the opening lines:

Early in the morning, late in the century, Cricklewood Broadway. At 0627 hours on January 1, 1975, Alfred Archilbald Jones was dressed in corduroy and sat in a fume-filled Cavalier Musketeer Estate facedown on the steering wheel, hope the judgment would not be too heavy upon him. He lay in a prostate cross, jaw slack, arms splayed on either side like some fallen angel; scrunch up in each fist he held his army service medals (left) and his marriage license (right), for he had decided to take his mistakes with him.

Before learning anything else about Archie, these pathetic and but cheeky first lines convince me that I'm going to like him, or at least chuckle at the tongue in cheek melodrama of his life. I want to know more about Archie, what has brought him to this place, what's up with his marriage, why does he choose to wear corduroy to his suicide? Now that's a great opener to a novel!

I wonder how long it took Smith to craft these opening lines? Do the rest of us plebs have any hope of being as clever with our own openers? If not, do you think perhaps that we should aim for the opposite and craft the most awful opening lines know to man? If you plan to do so, I suggest perusing for the worst opening lines in published novels, updated annually. Here are some of my favourites from the 2010 winners:

For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity's affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss--a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity's mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world's thirstiest gerbil.
Molly Ringle

(Hmmm, nothing says passion like water guzzling gerbils.) 

The dark, drafty old house was lopsided and decrepit, leaning in on itself, the way an aging possum carrying a very heavy, overcooked drumstick in his mouth might list to one side if he were also favoring a torn Achilles tendon, assuming possums have them.
Scott Davis Jones

(If you squint you can almost see the metaphoric connection... almost)

Wearing his new slacks from L.L. Bean, and entering the pen to feed his three big dogs their usual three cans of dog food, some of which ended up on his new pants, Kevin then left the house to attend a revival screening of ‘Serpico’ with Alpo chinos.
Greg Homer

(Greg, awful puns are never acceptable)

She purred sensually, oozing allure that was resisted only by his realization as an entomologist that the protein dust on the couch from the filing of her crimson nails was now being devoured by dust mites in a clicking, ferocious, ecstatic frenzy. Jonathan Blay

(I'm sorry, what?)

Happy crafting!

1 comment:

  1. LOL
    I love it. Maybe if I *try* for the worst first line I'll get the best, because when I try for the best, I don't do so hot. :p