When I’m browsing through a bookstore, like many readers, it won’t take me long to decide whether I want to read a book. If I’m not drawn in by the opening I’ll put it down and move on to another book. After all, there is so much to read and time is precious.
In writing this post on Margaret Drabble I was intrigued by the openings of her novels and wondered what it was about them that captivated me so. Was it the clean and simple language? Her often short sentences? Her promises of a journey into love, fate, mystery, grief, romance and depth as seen in these openings:
The Waterfall: If I were drowning I couldn’t reach out a hand to save myself, so unwilling am I to set myself up against fate.
The Millstone: My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice: almost one might say made by it. Take for instance, the first time I tried spending a night with a man in a hotel.
A Summer Bird-Cage: I had to come home from my sister’s wedding. Home is a house in Warwickshire, and where I was coming from was Paris.
The Red Queen: When I was a little girl, I pined for a red silk shirt. I do not remember all the emotions of my childhood, but I remember this childish longing well.
The Pure Gold Baby: What she felt for those children, as she was to realize later, was a proleptic tenderness. When she saw their little bare bodies, their proud brown belly buttons, the flies clustering around their runny noses, their big eyes, their strangely fused and forked toes, she felt a simple sympathy. Where others might have felt pity or sorrow, she felt a kind of joy, an inexplicable joy. Was this a premonition, and inoculation against grief and love to come?
Proleptic? had to look it up: The noun form is prolepsis and means describing an event as taking place before it could have done so, the treating of a future event as if it had already happened. (New World Dictionary).
The Needle’s Eye: He stood there and waited. He was good at that. There was no hurry. There was plenty of time. He always had time. He was a punctual and polite person, and that was why he was standing there, buying a gift for his hostess. Politeness was an emotion – could one call it an emotion he wondered? That was how he regarded it, certainly –an emotion that he both feared and understood.
Margaret Drabble was named the Dame of the British Empire in 2008 for her contribution to contemporary English literature. Here’s where I guess she wrote these delightful openings.
Photographer: Eamonn McCabe
Two of her quotes on writing:
What really annoys me are the ones who write to say, I am doing your book for my final examinations and could you please tell me what the meaning of it is. I find it just so staggering–that you’re supposed to explain the meaning of your book to some total stranger! If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn’t have bothered to write them.
I’ve often worried about this—that if one got really very happy in life, one might not want to write at all. I think grief is creative. And, in some awful way, boredom is creative. When I’m really deeply bored (inevitably I’m rather miserable at the same time) I find this a creative phase because one’s got to get something. One’s got to rise out of it in some way. And the way that I’m most familiar with is by writing. Paris Review
What do you think about her openings? Any other thoughts?