So this is the third post of five, looking at the opening sentences of my favourite reads of the past twelve months, based on an idea from the beginning of K.M Weiland's book Structuring Your Novel.
A good opening should:
1. Questions – establish tensions to be resolved.
2. Character – engage the reader with the protagonist.
3. Setting – give the reader a sense of place.
4. Declaration – a sweeping, provocative statement.
5. Tone – establishes the style and mood of the writing.
So here's number three:
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
“So say it,” she said.
He was quiet, his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city's outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
Subject Pronouns not Proper Nouns
The novel opens with an exchange of direct speech. The gendering of the pronouns establishes that the relationship will be key to the novel. And while this might seem to be a perfect opportunity to name the protagonists, Faber uses the anonymous pronouns 'he' and 'she'. Perhaps he is establishing Peter and Bea as universal 'everypeople'.
The exchange 'I was going to say something', 'so say it' works as sort of literary joke at the start, mirroring the job of the author / storyteller.
Like both previous writers Faber includes cumulative syntax (subordinate clauses following the main clause), the adjectives 'endless' and 'giant' show the impressiveness of the road, the marked out journey that Peter and Faber intend to leave.
A funny one this. The opening, like the book as whole feels metaphorical, hard to pin down. And that's a big reason why I love it (a lot of readers don't if the reviews on Amazon are anything to go by). It is without question one of my favourite books not just of the past twelve months but of ever and all time.