Top 10 opening scenes in books

From The Guardian:

Sometimes I want an opening to slap me in the face; other times I’d rather it come on like a creepy hand across my shoulder. There are millions of ways a voice can convince me to listen, but there are even more ways it can fail. I have little patience for the latter. Life is not long enough to ingest sub-par art.

It all gets so much more fraught when I’m the writer, not the reader, of that opening scene. I worked and reworked, un-worked and reworked the first chapter of my second novel, The Answers, trying to get the tone just right. It began as 12 pages, a braid of the main character’s memories and anxieties, then whittled down to 10, then eight, then five. For a year, I thought that five-page opening was perfect. Then, in a rare late-night revision fit, I deleted it and replaced the whole thing with a single paragraph. Now it wastes no time in opening the book with the right feeling –a mix of regret and menace and mystery.

Here are 10 openings that satisfied me enough to be memorable. As usual, the list is unranked and inherently incomplete.

1. A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Nikki, the name we finally gave my younger daughter, is not an abbreviation; it was a compromise I reached with her father. For paradoxically it was he who wanted to give her a Japanese name and I – perhaps out of some selfish desire not to be reminded of the past – insisted on an English one.”

I was first compelled by the nervous, halting voice, but in only two sentences the narrator has hinted at tensions between past and present, mother and father, England and Japan.

2. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

“Everyone had always said that John would be a preacher when he grew up, just like his father. It had been said so often that John, without ever thinking about it, had come to believe it himself. Not until the morning of his 14th birthday did he really begin to think about it, and by then it was already too late.”

The language here is so deliciously clear, yet the content is about how brutal and controlling an inherited story can be, how the repeated words of others can predetermine the life of another. Few writers have elucidated this human predicament as well as Baldwin.

3. Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell

“Her first name was India – she was never able to get used to it. It seemed to her that her parents must have been thinking of someone else when they named her. Or were they hoping for another sort of daughter? As a child she was often on the point of inquiring, but time passed, and she never did.”

The utter exasperation and estrangement. Enough said.

Link to the rest at The Guardian