Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Best First Lines of Novels

Here's someone's list of the 100 Best First Lines Of Novels.  "Call me Ishmael" is #1.

Number 79 is from one of my favorite books:

"On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen."
These lines are from Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban, published in 1981.  It's set in the distant future in what used to be the Kentish countryside in southeast England after an unknown calamity has reduced mankind to a primitive remnant. Riddley is the main character and it's about his journey to puzzle out his existence and find a renewed spark for humanity.

The entire book is written in the stytle of the first sentence so it can be a difficult read at the beginning (for instance, "puter leat" is "computer elite") but once you get into the rhythm of the fractured English you can make sense of it more quickly.

When it came out the New York Times called it "extraordinary, haunting  . . . fiercely imagined" with "lighting by El Greco and jokes by Punch and Judy".  It's vivid, memorable and moving.  And very funny at times.  I've read the book three times over the years and it's well worth the time it takes to get used to the language.
 (Russell Hoban)

I've often thought of the author, who died in 2011, as the novelistic equivalent of a "one-hit wonder".  Riddley Walker was a big success.  I read his next novel, Pilgerman (set at the time of the First Crusade) but did not find it to be very good and never read anything else by him again.  But Russell Hoban had a long career writing both adult novels and children's books.

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