Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Jaguar by T. Jefferson Parker

The black van rolled across the barnyard in the rain and stopped beneath an enormous oak tree.

This opening line fails to hook and is doubly boring because of the two cliches employed, the weather opening and the car opening. This might be forgiven if the next line introduced conflict or character but the next line doesn't. See for yourself:

It was a large vehicle but under the canopy it was poorly visible, a dark shape within greater darkness.

For some reason it is more important to describe this nondescript vehicle than to dive into conflict. Nevertheless, as it's these two lines allow the reader to assume something is not right.  Then men spill out of the van and advance to a stable and then to a ranch house. This could be an invasion of Jehovah's Witnesses or a SWAT team. Meanwhile a man is upstairs watching as he buttons his jeans. The paragraph ends with:

He was twenty-one years old.

Like I need to know this now. Who cares how old he is. Tell me when it matters.

First thing said:

"Men are here."

This comes on the first page and only confirms what the opening paragraph revealed anyway, so it's actually redundant.

However, by the end of page 1 a scene is rapidly unfolding, in which men with guns are storming a house. It escalates quickly. The man who is 21 and who buttoned his jeans, Bradley, is knocked out and when he wakes up he is in a very small, confined space on page 3. Most readers will be pulled in as the tension rises as this man tries to figure out where he is. Then the van men present conditions this Bradley must meet in ten days or his wife gets it; they'll mail him her skin rolled up in a small box, and so begins a ticking-clock plot scenario, which is always good for some suspense and quick-paced reading.

Verdict: Pass

I would score this higher but the opening line is an utter fail. Obviously some people don't value the power of the opening line.

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.

A very long first sentence that because of its verbosity, it has a sarcastic tone to it, giving the Pickwick club an authoritarian air. On the surface this line reads like preamble but because it's purpose is to establish tone it reads like a cheesy announcement giving the reader a taste of more to come. Some might consider it overwritten, but one can't help think that is the intended effect.

What follows is the announcing of the rather ostentatious minutes of their meetings.

First thing said:

"Cab!"

part of the charm of this novel is its silliness and what better way to convey that then with the style and tone of this novel.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. The Pickwick Papers ranks as the 76th best novel of all time.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. 

Who hasn't heard of this story? It is a classic adventure story loved by many (at least the TV and film versions), but the opening line of this is horrible. Perhaps back in the day this was the way to start, but as it has nothing to do with being deserted on an island, it is preamble and quite uninteresting preamble at that, not to mention that it's a massive back story dump. But this was the early days of novel writing and the writer was still finding his way.

The opening paragraph goes on in the same uninteresting way, talking about people and onomastics that really have nothing to do with the the premise; yes, we learn a little about Crusoe but in an encyclopedic entry manner.

He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade, lived afterwards at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but, by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called—nay we call ourselves and write our name—Crusoe; and so my companions always called me.

This history goes on and on and on until we learn that he's a bit of a sailor though perhaps not made for such work, not that this is conflict that anyone would care about. Why couldn't this start with being on the island and then mention this boring stuff later when the reader would mildly care?

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Robinson Crusoe sits at number 77 as the best novel ever.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Double Indemnity by James M. Cain

I drove out to Glendale to put three new truck drivers on a brewery company bond, and then I remembered this renewal over in Hollywoodland. 

This line doesn't offer much except a location. Not a great opening line to what many say is a great novel. However, the rest of the first paragraph is where the hook is.

I decided to run over there. That was how I came to this House of Death, that you’ve been reading about in the papers. It didn’t look like a House of Death when I saw it. It was just a Spanish house, like all the rest of them in California, with white walls, red tile roof, and a patio out to one side. It was built cock-eyed. The garage was under the house, the first floor was over that, and the rest of it was spilled up the hill any way they could get it in. You climbed some stone steps to the front door, so I parked the car and went up there. A servant poked her head out.

The 'House of Death' will attract attention and raise lots of questions, even if it sounds a little campy by today's standards.

First thing said comes next:

“Is Mr. Nirdlinger in?”

“I don’t know, sir. Who wants to see him?”

“Mr. Huff.”

“And what’s the business?”

“Personal.”

Getting in is the tough part of my job, and you don’t tip what you came for till you get where it counts. “I’m sorry, sir, but they won’t let me ask anybody in unless they say what they want.”

Dialogue establishes the film noir tone of the novel and the toughness of the narrator, so this reveals character and since dialogue comes sooner rather than later, we can surmise that the writing style will be engaging, as the characters can tell their stories without lots of narrative text.

I like how after the hook in the form of House of Death the writer moves onto a scene without answering the question the hook raises. This intensifies the suspense level. Lesser writers try to do the same thing, but they do it by delaying to answer the hook by way of boring back story or setting description. This fails to maintain a hook or hold attention. If people keep reading, it is only because they either have nothing else better to do, or are hooked by the byline, or have already paid and have no choice but to continue in the hope they aren't getting ripped off. If a writer wishes to delay the hook to create suspense and tension the best way to delay is like in this novel, by introducing a scene that has its own conflict and suspense that reveals characters we can start caring about.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 26 September 2014

Don't Want to Miss a Thing by Jill Mansell

It was almost midnight and Dexter Yates was in bed with his girlfriend when his phone burst into life.

This would be cool if this were about a phone that came to life and started killing people because it had gone insane after being exposed for so long to people talking nonsense about useless things, droning on about nonsense forever. I know I would lose it.

Alas, this is nothing more than the bed setting cliche and phone call opening cliche colliding.

The rest of the paragraph goes like this:

Possessed of lightning reflexes, she grabbed it off the bedside table before he could reach it himself.

Then the next paragraph is all of one sentence:

Honestly, some people were so mistrustful.

The use of past tense here makes it sound like people were mistrustful but aren't now.

First thing said:

"It says Laura."

The girl asks who the Laura is who's calling Dexter but Dexter, heroically refuses to say. Why this is heroic, is beyond me, I mean it's not like the guy whipped out his Excalibur and slayed a freckled dragon or anything. Instead he says, "Someone an awful lot nicer than you."

Quite the nasty thing to say to a girl while in bed, but some guys are just expressive that way, I guess. Anyway, the scene is about Dexter learning that his sister just had a baby. So the writing is structured in such a way to make the story sound more interesting than it is. So kudos to the writer for that.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 25 September 2014

In the Land of Birdfishes by Rebecca Silver Slayter

When I had eyes, I saw my sister's hair (yellow), my mother's back, small rocks that the water took out and in from the shore with gasps of its deep ocean lungs.

The opening paragraph goes on to explain that this narrator also lost her hands, lost everything very slowly. Then the next paragraph begins with back story with some family history. Not very interesting at least not at the beginning. A scene unfolds on page 3, but I can't get into it, as it's a family beach scene, and without introducing conflict first, I have no reason to care. The author goes the route of trying to get readers caring about the characters first. The way to do that is to have them confronted with conflict.

Nevertheless, there is a kernel of a hook in the opening paragraph, as this character seems to be falling apart. This will attract most readers, but if the writer doesn't get back to it soon, readers like me lose interest, unless another problem is introduced or at least foreshadowed.

First thing said:

"Let's go with Mother."

There is not much to add or say. The back story is standard family history stuff. There are a couple nice one liners but not enough to keep reading past a couple pages. I'm not the only one, as the library copy I have was bookmarked a couple pages in.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Accidental Bride by Christina Skye

It was a beautiful wedding.

Preamble.  But wait there is a point to this rather nondescript opening line. Read on:

The groom got sick. The bride overslept. The best man was a dog.

See what the author did here? OMG, LOL!!!! You just know this is going to be, like, so totally jocular and laughable. The quirkiness of the wedding continues, but I skipped the rest of this prologue until the end to find out if there was something actually beautiful about the wedding, or if this novel begins with sarcasm, which rarely hooks me. Read it yourself if you are dying to know.

The third paragraph:

And the day had barely begun.

There's more craziness? Be still my beating heart. Too bad about starting a sentence and a paragraph with a conjunction that's been forced into an unnatural act as a failed conjunctive adverb.

Chapter 1:

Arizona
One month earlier

The restaurant kitchen was a scene right out of World War III.

No one knows what World War III looks like, though I googled it and it could look like anything from this to this.  Therefore, making a comparison to something that doesn't exist is ineffectual. Making such comparisons is like making a comparison to how a Pintian from the Planet Googg in the 34V2th century of the 30th era ruled by the three-headed Hyper-Moodian and a Half would write to those on Earth. That is to say, why compare something to something that doesn't exist? To provide a simile (to appease English teachers?) that's only purpose is to explore absurd hyperbole devoid of meaning to establish tone? Fortunately, the author explains what a scene from World War III would look like:

Pots churned, grills smoked and a dozen harried workers danced to avoid each other. It was cramped, hot and noisy - one step away from chaos.

So World War III will look like kitchen workers dancing? Suddenly the future seems so bright.

The opening page goes on to explain that Jilly couldn't be happier managing this busy kitchen before continuing that sometimes she hated it being so successful and busy. Does this character have multiple-personality disorder? No! She prefers the kitchen life to the shmoozing life. So why not hire a hostess and work in the kitchen then? Because she has a chef who does the cooking, and I'm sure that person is ready to snap and go berserk with Jilly going back there and choreographing the kitchen workers' dance.

At this point I have a question, not about this novel of course, as there is no conflict that raises any questions in the opening sentences; rather, why do romance novels sometimes start with food and trifling human discord? My theory is that the happy ending is human accord on a full tummy. That is the happily ever after. For men, it's love, a steak and a beer; for women, it's love, a glass of wine and a chocolate souffle. Without yummy-yummy, there's no lovey-dovey.

First thing said:

"Are you ready?"

Verdict: Fail

The worst thing about this opening is not the fact it is ridiculously written, but that people will think it isn't ridiculous and will actually be hooked. This kind of mental degeneration may actually closer resemble WW III than dancing kitchen workers. But I hope I'm wrong.

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry

It's a beautiful night and no mistake.

I don't now about anyone else but I find this sentence somewhat confusing. What is not the mistake? That it is not beautiful or that we shouldn't doubt it, as in make no mistake about it. Or more probably, that this beautiful night was no mistake and was designed this way by someone or something? As well, beautiful night alludes to weather, so we'll tag the weather opening cliche to this one. The next line and rest of the opening paragraph is:

You would never think there was a war somewhere.

This opening paragraph is in quotes meaning someone is saying this. Next line:

These less than prophetic words were spoken by a young navy second lieutenant, on the wide, night-bedarkened deck of our supply ship, bound for Accra.

The use of night-bedarkened  makes this line overwritten. Plus, though I'm no expert, in the navy I don't think there is a rank of second lieutenant; sub-lieutenant or junior lieutenant I've heard, but second lieutenant is a rank in the army equivalent to ensign in the navy. A cursory search online seems to confirm this.

So this opening basically establishes that this is a historical novel set during World War II, but with inaccurate information one wonders how effective this will be at immersing the reader into the time period. I suspect for most people it will work as they don't really care about little things like facts, grammar and punctuation when reading a story.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 22 September 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

A few minutes after two in the morning Rebecca Winter woke to the sound of a gunshot and sat up in bed.

This opening line which is all of the first paragraph has two cliches right out of the gate, which surprises me. The title is not bad, but it does have the subtle waft of artsy-farsty and even though I'm not a big fan of the artsy-fartsy genre, the one thing one can usually count on is that they don't start with any of the usual cliches, except perhaps on occasion the weather cliche opening. Here we have the bed setting and the gun opening. For a moment I wonder if I'm reading Ian Fleming.

Then we get a correction, it may not be two in the morning which provides an escape into back story about the kitchen floor, loose steps in the back yard and outlets as these are apparently more important than the gunshot.

We return t the gunshot on page 2 and another correction as Rebecca doesn't actually know what a gunshot sounds like and so can't be certain it was a gunshot because...and then some more back story about New York City, vacations, beaches, vineyards and the husband. After a page of her life story about a mother, childhood, the doorman and her father the author reassures us that there is most likely some conflict in this opening and that Rebecca is almost certain it is a gunshot as she lies in bed in a room without outlets. She looks for her watch, which provides another opportunity for back story about her marriage before returning to the watch which is difficult to read especially in a room fringed by large pine trees which begins a paragraph about setting and weather.

Then on the next page Rebecca turns over ready to ignore the gunshot as it becomes a memory which is how the reader should feel after all the back story. The forward narrative becomes just a distant memory.

Then there are two more pages of back story which I skipped until we get this sentence:

Bam bam bam.

So it was a gunshot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! But by this point the writer has persuaded me not to care.

First thing said:

"That's a beauty!"

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

How happy I am that I am gone! 

For a second I thought that this was in reference to the guy getting ready to blow his brains out. A little misdirection and foreshadowing that leads to confusion can go a long way in hooking a reader. The next lines:

My dear friend, what a thing is the heart of man! To leave you, from whom I have been inseparable, whom I love so dearly, and yet to feel happy!

According to Elmore Leonard, Goethe has used up his allotment of exclamation marks for a novel, though in Goethe's defense, he may not have read that bit of writing advice. The rest of the long opening paragraph has a feeling of ranting to it, which hints at the narrator's mental state quite well, knowing what we know of young Werther and his sorrows, assuming readers are familiar with this story before they start reading it.

I know you will forgive me. Have not other attachments been specially appointed by fate to torment a head like mine? Poor Leonora! and yet I was not to blame. Was it my fault, that, whilst the peculiar charms of her sister afforded me an agreeable entertainment, a passion for me was engendered in her feeble heart? And yet am I wholly blameless? Did I not encourage her emotions? Did I not feel charmed at those truly genuine expressions of nature, which, though but little mirthful in reality, so often amused us? Did I not—but oh! what is man, that he dares so to accuse himself? 

You get the idea. Nervous breakdowns are usually accompanied by an influx of thoughts related only by the punctuation used. Though young Werther's sorrows have not yet begun, we can see he is ripe for grief with the next line:

My dear friend I promise you I will improve; I will no longer, as has ever been my habit, continue to ruminate on every petty vexation which fortune may dispense...

First thing said:

"Shall I help you, pretty lass?"

This comes a couple pages in, depending on the edition you are reading.

Overall, I'm fairly certain Goethe did not write the opening of this short novel with the purpose of providing a marketable hook to sell copies. Even when he wrote this, he was fairly well known with a previous work. The hook was in the byline. Nevertheless, there is great emotion in this opening and the first glimpse of a character that is not quite as stable as you and I like to think we are.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. The Sorrows of Young Werther ranks as the 78th best.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

The letter had said to meet in a bookstore.

This is the opening line and opening paragraph of the novel. The next paragraph begins with weather, stating that it drizzling and cold but not cold enough for snow which means that it is not a night for a bookstore. I personally don't see the connection between bad weather and going to a bookstore. The paragraph continues with a character standing at a bus stop as the rain drums down. Doesn't sound like it's drizzling to me. I understand drizzle and drumming rain to be two different things, but that's just me. Perhaps I'm over-complicating things. Or perhaps this writer is. The next sentence in this paragraph contains a POV switch and a long sentence fragment. I will add it here for your critical judging pleasure.

Not one of your charming, quirky bookstores, with a ginger cat on the windowsill and a shelf of rare signed first editions and an eccentric, bewhiskered proprietor behind the counter.

I fail to find a verb in this line making it a phrase. Punctuation does not a sentence make.

The POV switches continue the next paragraph: Inside you could still hear the noise of cars...and I'm reminded of grade 6 homework I've checked in the past, hardly something a New York Times best-selling author should aspire to, or am I behind on the latest writing trends?

First thing said:

"Attention, Bookbumblers patrons!"

This opening feels like it should be the opening of a film rather than a book. It lacks conflict and lacks revealing character. It has an aura of suspense but only in that we know nothing about anything of the situation. As well, without conflict, there is no reason to care. I suppose since this is a series that there is something here that people who have read the series would find intense and suspenseful, but anyone picking this up without reading the other books, won't be interested or hooked by this opening.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Ok.

This is the beginning of chapter 1, and as there is nothing here to suggest plot, character, theme, setting, or pathetic fallacy, I think we can assume what the tone of the novel will be. Ok? In its favor, it is short -  and dare I say - pithy?

The next line:

Don't panic.

It is so important that it is worth repeating:

Don't panic.

With panic in italics. Next line:

It's only a VISA bill.

And so we come to the cusp of an inciting event with some conflict. The bill has come; the fun is done. Then the narrator assumes she knows (sorry, I'm assuming this is a female protagonist, call it my sixth sense tingling or perhaps the pink cover is misleading me?) that the bill will be 200 pounds, but then when tallying up purchases it comes to 950 pounds. There was the rug everyone loved,  the Jigsaw suit (whatever that is - I'm beginning to think this book wasn't written with me in mind, which really isn't fair.), contact lenses, hypoallergenic eyeliner,

My question: How can anyone overspend without noticing it?

However, as the narrator wonders what she bought and thinking maybe her credit card was stolen there is a somewhat suspenseful scene here, as we eventually learn what her bill is. The problem is that I can't help think she has brain damage, like amnesia or something; she can't seem to remember buying anything. If this is just the narrator being silly, then this opening is silly, but if this lady has some serious mental disorder, than this is an interesting hook, and I don't mean a disorder of simply being addicted to buying things. That's something everyone struggles with to some degree.

In this narrator's defense, she does ask:

I'm not stupid, am I?

A little self-deprecation goes a long way in revealing character. The question though, that we all need to ask ourselves is do we want to invest the three or four days it will take to read this, if the character really is as stupid as she sounds?

First thing said:

"Ok, Becky?"

I was right the narrator is female.

The title is nice and works well with the opening, though the first line is, like, totally, forgettable, regrettable and redundant. That opening sentence is an utter and epic fail, but as it's only slightly better than a grunt, we can ignore it or skip it and get to line four which is where conflict makes an appearance.

This is a pass for the scene of overspending which everyone can relate to at some point in their lives.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Guardians by Andrew Pyper

Memory Diary
Entry No. 1

We watched them come in.

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of this blog we thought I would review another book by the author who started it all off. That time round he got a resounding epic fail for how he opened his 'award-winning' novel.

The opening line from this effort reads like an exercise in pronounology. It could be about anything, absolutely anything in the universe. We don't learn who 'we' are, but we do learn that 'they' are police officers going into a house. The first is one fat officer (stereotype intended?), who shows up. Whatever is in the house is disturbing, as fat cop comes out of the house transformed into sweaty fat cop. Fat cop calls it in and soon more police show up, an ambulance and fire trucks, before the body bags start coming out. This prologue ends:

A gulp of french fry, onion ring and chicken finger that, to this day, is the taste of death.

We remember all this, though still not everything.

And some of the things we remember may not have happened at all.

Huh? But that's it. We never learn what happened, or what this is about. Just bodies that the narrators may have remembered or may not have remembered because it may or may not have happened. It sounds like a writer just wrote a first draft of the opening of a story, and is still not sure what is going to happen next. However, the subtitle to this masked prologue explains more than the text. Whoever this 'we' pronoun is, they have memory problems, so one may reasonably infer. So this would have to be the opening hook, which serves to entice readers into the story, but may also warn them that there might be some ambiguity for a bit.

Plus, how does a gulp of food taste like death, as opposed to the food itself? Remove the propositional phrase of...etc., and we have this: A gulp is the taste of death.

Chapter 1:

The call comes in the middle of the night, as the worst sort do.

So this line works two opening cliches: the waking up or bed setting cliche and the phone call cliche.

First thing said:

"I don't even know what time it is."

This line sounds less awkward if that sentence and the next hadn't been separated with punctuation: "But it's late, isn't it?"

Then the voice is described, which is notable enough to add here:

A familiar voice, faintly slurred, helium-pitched between laughter and sobs.

This is another example of the descriptive style of this writer: It seems everything can be described as a series of contradictions co-existing within the being of each thing out there. Take the opening of the Demonologist:

Last night I had the dream again. Except it was not a dream.

Later when describing Ben, a guy who hung himself which is what the phone call is about, the narrator, Trev, talks about how Ben and he might ...have been separated by an ocean, or an even greater barrier, as impossible to cross as the chasm between planets, as death.

Then the next paragraph begins:

Despite this, we were still close. There was a love between us too. A sexless, stillborn love, yet just as fierce as the other kinds.

Yeah, right. Why can I not believe that or imagine that after the hyperbolic chasm description that is like as big as life and death? Hyperbolic chasm description might just be referring to distance, but I can't help but think it has more to do with personalities or the natures of the characters. There are certainly plenty of hints to suggest this is the case. We learn that what connects these two characters is a secret - a secret unknown even to Ben and Trev!

There are many contrary concepts in this writing that makes one wonder why one is even bothering to read. I suppose one could just ignore them if one reads fast enough or multitasks, you know, by thinking about what to have for dinner while reading.

Still the prologue and what we can infer from it and the fact that dialogue is used and a scene unfolds early on in chapter 1 gets this the 'meh' pass.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman

Prologue
Manhattan. May 19, 1876

I wait for the police in the study overlooking Gramercy Park, the body prone on the floor a few feet away.

A problem and a character in the opening line cannot fail to make one read on, which is what each line in a story should do: make readers want to read the next one, so onto the next line:

Outside, rain has cooled the green spring evening.

Unfortunately, this human weakness of succumbing to cliche rears its ugly head in this novel as it does in millions of others. The next paragraph talks about and describes the room this pronoun is in, which is not what the reader wants. The reader wants to know about the body, not the real estate agent's tour of the place. I understand that authors do this to build suspense, done by not revealing what the reader wants revealed right away, but I've always said that that is a rather hackneyed way of creating suspense, sort of suspense by procrastination. A little is fine and may be quite effective; a lot is annoying and feels like wasting readers' time by toying with them. In this case, it is thankfully short and in the next paragraph we return to the body and the interesting circumstances surrounding it, which are: Either 'she' killed 'him' or the narrator killed him but has no memory of it. The use of pronouns bugs me, I can infer more about the dead person than the living in this opening.

While still on the first page the narrator explains that whether it was 'she' who killed him or 'I' who killed him, the narrator is going to take the blame and therefore must wait in the room while contemplating what to do to the body until he/she/it is caught red-handed. The circumstances are unusual enough to pull readers in and it's nice that the hook is so soon. However....this is the prologue, an attachment to the beginning of a story. Chapter 1, where a story is officially supposed to begin rarely continues where a prologue left off, if it did, then the prologue would be chapter 1 and chapter 1 would be chapter 2.

Chapter 1:

In June of 1875, we made our way down Virginia City's "A" Street, proceeding south from the center of town towards the mountains.

As was expected the opening of chapter 1 does not continue  the action of the prologue but instead goes back in time to tell the story that leads to the prologue which one can assume will be a climactic moment in the novel later on, or thereabouts. On top of that, we have the walking cliche here, characters travelling to the beginning of the story and conflict. It goes on to explain who the people are that are walking and I lose interest. I'm not the only one; the library copy I have has the page folded after the prologue. Someone else stopped after reading the prologue, thinking that chapter 1 was for another day. Too bad, I really liked that prologue, despite the split infinitive.

First thing said:

"Where is it?"

Verdict: Pass (barely)

A deeply anticlimatic chapter 1 and a couple of cliches reduces the rating of this opening.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 15 September 2014

Candide by Voltaire

HOW CANDIDE WAS BROUGHT UP IN A MAGNIFICENT CASTLE, AND HOW HE WAS EXPELLED THENCE.

In a castle of Westphalia, belonging to the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh, lived a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners. 

The names are a little awkward, but I think they help to establish the tone of the novel. In any case, they are no weirder or more frightening than many of the names in the Harry Potter series. The line itself introduces characters but declines to introduce conflict so it fails by itself.

The rest of the first paragraph:

His countenance was a true picture of his soul. He combined a true judgment with simplicity of spirit, which was the reason, I apprehend, of his being called Candide. The old servants of the family suspected him to have been the son of the Baron's sister, by a good, honest gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady would never marry because he had been able to prove only seventy-one quarterings, the rest of his genealogical tree having been lost through the injuries of time.

This is only mildly funny, in that Candide's parents couldn't marry because they could not prove the nobility back to the times of Christ. But the tone is by now established, and tone is Voltaire's strength.

First thing said:

"It is demonstrable," said he, "that things cannot be otherwise than as they are; for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end." 

With this dialogue we get a glimpse of what Voltaire is known for: witty complex concepts, as is seen with the next sentence:

"Observe, that the nose has been formed to bear spectacles—thus we have spectacles. Legs are visibly designed for stockings—and we have stockings."

The opening line is of the preamble variety but then again that was the style back then. However, the narrative quickly shifts into Voltaire's style that borders on a sort of realism based on absurdism, which will pull in many a reader.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Candide is graded as the 79th best.


Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Native Son by Richard Wright

Brrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiinng!

Onomatopoeia doesn't pull one in the way it used to when we used to read Dr. Seuss as kids. This might not be an accurate representation of the opening line, as I couldn't be bothered to count how many i's there are in this word.

An alarm clock clanged in the dark and silent room. A bed spring creaked.

So we have the waking up or bed setting cliche. In all fairness this might not yet have been overdone by the 1940's, but it still betrays a lack of creativity. The short sentences help speed the pace which is existential, er, I mean, essential to getting a hook into a reader's brain.

First thing said:

"Bigger shut that thing off."

This comes while still on the first page. Dialogue early is nice as it means that the characters are going to be doing most of the talking and showing and telling and not the author - so to speak. It's a plus that the story begins with a scene. But there is little conflict in the first couple pages to pull the average reader in. However, characters interacting should hold most people's attention until the hook comes.

I hope.

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Native Son ranks as the 80th best.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 12 September 2014

Death of a Scholar by Susanna Gregory

Cambridge, Lammas Day (1 August) 1358

Oswald Stanmore knew he was dying.

There is not as much conflict here as people may think. I mean, we all die. If the line was something like: He knew he would die, then that would raise more questions. However, in this first paragraph of this prologue, we learn that Oswald has some secrets and has been a naughty boy and needs to destroy any evidence of his his wrongdoings before he begins the arduous task of concentrating on his immortal soul. So we do get a hook in the first paragraph, which is not to say that the opening line fails, it's a great leading line.

Chapter 1

It was an inauspicious start for a new College.

This line, however, has a whiff of preamble to it. A big stink of preamble, actually, giving the opening line a watered-down vague character to it. The next line is where the story starts and would have made a much more powerful opening line, as it has character and conflict:

Geoffrey de Elvesmere of Winwick Hall lay dead in the latrine, sprawled inelegantly with his clothes in disarray around him.

I like the euphemistic phrase: sprawled inelegantly. Quickly we are presented with a body and a problem in the first paragraph of chapter 1. We learn something about the victim and the detective Matthew Bartholomew all in the first paragraph. Geoffrey would have been horrified at the spectacle he was providing for gawping onlookers. Readers are no different then those onlookers and out of curiosity read on.

First thing said:

"Marsh fever."

This comes in the prologue and moves the plot forward a little, which makes for effective dialogue in an opening. In this case, it reveals what is supposed to be ailing Oswald. He knows differently, though.

Verdict: Pass (Definitely)

For those who love mysteries there is enough mystery in the opening to hook. For those who love historical, there is enough history in the opening to hook. I like the writing style, but that's no surprise as it's coming from a UKer. So this gets a 3.5 stars out of 5.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Annie didn't usually talk to her suitcase, but she wasn't exactly herself these days.

This line works by itself. It's unusual enough to whet curiosity. We learn in the rest of the paragraph Annie is in a car driving in bad weather and tells her suitcase:

"It's only a little snow."

This is the first thing said, meaning a character is talking to a suitcase and I suspect this isn't even a children's story, even though the suitcase seemingly talks back: You know I hate the cold. Adding: How could you bring me to this awful place?

I'm instantly teleported to the Twilight Zone or to a well-written King novel. The next paragraph of narrative text answers and is all of one line:

Because Annie had run out of options. 

I sit and ponder this opening. Yes, it has the car opening cliche and the weather opening cliche, but what makes my mind go blank is the fact that conflict and context are introduced by having a woman talk to her suitcase. Is this a creative way of revealing back story and is pure genius or simply ridiculous? I can see the opening scene of the movie version, though I see it as a cartoon.

Then there is more weather, It's super-duper cold and the suitcase continues to argue with Annie, suggesting she go to Miami instead, when it hits me: This lady is stoned! What other explanation can there be for a talking suitcase? Apparently many, and on page 2 the reader learns that there is another explanation. Annie's packed the suitcases with puppets that are talking to her (in her head) so they can reveal back story for us. So in point of fact she is not really talking to her suitcases in the opening line, making it misleading and somewhat of a false hook.

Then enter other puppet voices and a discussion between the suitcases and Annie ensues. It's actually kind of fascinating, Just like watching The Room is fascinating.

Here is a bit of the conversation between the suitcases:

You know, Annie had no choice but to come here.
Because she's a big failure.
Very unkind...Even if it is true.

Ouch. Very demanding and unsympathetic puppets. Nevertheless, this opening manages to reveal that Annie has issues and is not really as normal as the rest of us, which is the type of character people like to read about. Who wants to read about boring old you and me anyway?

Then a man on a horse in the blizzard cuts in front of her car on the snowy road. Annie thinks at first she's imagining things; the reader starts to wonder how insane this character is and not if she is. Meanwhile, the voices in her head - aka, the puppets - continue to harass her, which predictably begins to wear thin after a while. I don't think I can read much more of this and fear this will continue throughout the book. Annie comes off as psychotic, which translates as annoying in my book.

Still, the abusive self-centered puppets/suitcases should keep people reading for a few pages, at least.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Killer by Jonathan Kellerman

"I'm not going to shoot you, Dr. Delaware."

It's been said many times that beginning with dialogue is not a very good idea. I tend to agree, unless what being said introduces conflict and character. This opening line does both and so therefore works. What follows is a little bit of text that has the primary function of establishing tone in which the narrator wonders what the proper response is to such a statement. It's not really funny, but it's not really not funny either.

Then we get some context, while still on page 1 about who these characters are and why they are in this situation. There's a lot of beating around the bushing with sentences explaining what is not the cause of this scene, but as the hook is established in the opening line, most people, who like this genre will read on.

Unfortunately, nothing bad is going to happen and although there is the promise of conflict, it is a false alarm, as the opening line suggested all along.

As well, the title is a fail, I mean, come on, the book is a crime novel with a murder so there has to be a killer. This is definitely not a killer title and is about as interesting as a Salinger-approved book cover design.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Shame and the Captives by Thomas Keneally

Autumn 1946
Japan, unspecified prefecture

When they were alone, she said to Aoki, "You were surrounded by those black savages...All that time you had in the jungle..."

I will take all this as the opening line of an unidentified prologue even though it is two lines fused together with a gluttony of ellipses. This line manages to introduce a situation though without a clear conflict in mind, but certainly presents possibilities for a hook.

In the next paragraph we learn that she is asking him if he succumbed to the jungle women, one presumes during WWII, and he answers that he was a soldier, implying that he did not. At this point I sense a massive flashback in which he tells his story of the war. He does, but the great thing is that the story he tells his wife is a lie. The reader is told that he's hiding something and this secret is a hook.

Part 1:

Spring 1943

On an unexpectedly warm day in the second October since her husband's capture, twenty-three-year-old Mrs Alice Herman saw - from the veranda where she sat sewing buttons on one of her father-in-law's shirts -  an army truck pull up in the middle of the rutted clay and gravel road outside the Hermans' place, three miles west of Gawell.

That was very annoying to type out. Reading it is more fun, but when one is forced to type it out, it becomes clear how much of this sentence is unnecessary. I was itching to truncate or delete more than the standard 10%. Short opening lines with character and conflict are the way to go. This line seems to be more interested in creating an idyllic postcard image, that's designed to warn the reader that this story is going to be romantic and epic, like how a TV miniseries would start.

This is what it is really about:

In the second October since her husband's capture, Mrs Alice Herman saw an army truck pull up outside.

Who cares what the temperature is? Who cares that she is sewing? Who cares that the bloody road is of rutted clay. Who cares that she lives three miles west of God knows where? Maybe there will be a reason to care later, but when it's necessary to know later, that is when the writer tells the reader, not overloading the reader with a descriptive dump in the first line. Too many words in the opening line, like weather reports, adjectives, and GPS dumps, etc., have the tendency to lead a reader away from the hook rather than towards it.

Though brief, quite honestly, the weather insertion is annoying. It seems every second book I pick up nowadays begins with weather. There is only so much weather readers can handle before they start to OD on it. I'm at the point now where I have no sympathy and no respect for any writer who begins with weather - the most rampant cliched opening on the market today, so if writers can't be more creative, I feel justified in throwing insolence and ridicule their way while reviewing such openings.

In any case, this line does present context which establishes some conflict into the bargain. Army men coming to a woman whose husband is a POW is probably not a good thing. Is it enough to hook? It does raise some questions, and I must admit I am mildly curious as to what is or will be Mr. Herman's fate, even though I can't say I yet care. I'm more interested in the situation than in the characters.  I care more about the characters in the prologue, but that is a prologue: different people in a different place in a different time. So whatever hook there was in the prologue is wasted on chapter 1.

For reasons mentioned above, I'm so tempted to give this 2.5 stars - the 50/50 meh rating, but there are some questions raised that induce curiosity and the writing isn't bad, so I'll be kind and give this opening a solid 3 stars.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Monday, 8 September 2014

Secrets from the Past by Barbara Taylor Bradford

It was a beautiful day.

This is a horrible opening line for a book. It does nothing. With an opening line perhaps the most visible in a novel, you'd think the author could do better or at least be a little more creative. Not only is it all weather, it begins with a pronoun. This line is worse than: It was a dark and stormy night... as at least that line suggests conflict but a beautiful day? Where does the story go from there? Just about anywhere, that's just how irrelevant this line is.

I always wondered what it was when referring to weather. What is it that is a beautiful day. Of course I could google it; Google has all the answers, but I have to admit I don't really care much.

The rest of the paragraph is about the weather, defining what beautiful means, adding only that this beautiful day is happening in Manhattan and that this is a first person narrative.

The next paragraph begins:

As I walked up Sutton Place, returning to my apartment, I began to shiver.

So this gets the walking cliche opening in addition to the weather opening. One more cliche and this is automatically an utter, epic fail. Let's see where it goes. The rest of the paragraph continues with more weather reporting and a fashion statement.

Paragraph 3 begins:

It was unusually chilly for March.

Paragraph 1 ended with: ...this cold Saturday morning; so we don't need any reiteration that it is cold. Readers figured that out in the first paragraph, even though it is a beautiful day, which as one reads on does not seem to be entirely accurate.

Before page 1 ends we get some back story pumped in without having any clue what the forward narrative is - that is to say, what this story is actually about. Writers who do this without presenting a forward narrative hook are at risk of not being read - at least not by me.

First thing said:

"It's Arctic weather, Sam."

It really doesn't sound like that beautiful of a day. This dialogue comes on page 2, so early dialogue is a plus. Yet here the dialogue neither reveals character or moves a plot point forward, it merely repeats the weather, which we already know all about - in spades.

This short two-page chapter 1 ends with the narrator certain she is in danger and that a story-worthy problem is about to present itself soon, perhaps as early as chapter 2, but if it doesn't, this is the narrator's way of guaranteeing that a story will emerge at some point in this novel, just not in chapter 1, which is, you know, usually where a story is supposed to start.

Verdict: Epic Fail

Just words on paper. Nothing to see here. Skip chapter 1 and you might get pulled in, though chapter 2 doesn't interest much either.

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaux. 

This line is quite nondescript. The mention of a republic only mildly interests as it suggests a setting. The mountains might be a metaphor. Reading the rest of the first paragraph we learn of two volcanoes:

Overlooking one of these valleys, which is dominated by two volcanoes, lies, six thousand feet above sea-level, the town of Quauhnahuac. It is situated well south of the Tropic of Cancer, to be exact, on the nineteenth parallel, in about the same latitude as the Revillagigedo Islands to the west in the Pacific, or very much farther west, the southernmost tip of Hawaii – and as the port of Tzucox to the east on the Atlantic seaboard of Yucatan near the border of British Honduras, or very much farther east, the town of Juggernaut, in India, on the Bay of Bengal.

By the fourth paragraph we are introduced to some characters, one of which is drinking something that reminds him of absinthe. Page 1 is nicely written with description that sets the scene, so on the plus one can assume that one is in the capable hands of a writer.

First thing said:

‘ –I meant to persuade him to go away and get déalcoholisé.’

There is conflict that is eventually revealed but having to wade through the geography and description first to get to a hook is asking a lot from a reader. The writing is great but it reminds me of those "where's the beef?" commercials. Only I shout out: Where's the story?

Verdict: Fail

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Under the Volcano is 81st best.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke

It was the year none of the seasons followed their own dictates.

It goes on about weather. If the seasons had been dramatically different like snow in July or a heatwave in February then this might have been interesting to read. But as it's about nothing other than bad weather, dressed in simile, it is as boring as staring at paint drying. Not the way to begin a story. Ever. Unless, of course, you are James Lee Burke or any other author who enjoys the byline hook.

Then with paragraph 2 the story moves into back story about a father who disappeared looking for work and a mother that goes through a mental deterioration, before taking a further step back by one generation to go into some granddaddy back story. But it is the good kind, unusual and filled with conflict.

Despite weather cliche and back story dump, this opening does succeed in revealing character and mood, which is important to writers and English teachers, as well as to the average reader. This the reader may enjoy some sympathy for the character and care. So we have character development and setting but no story problem yet, which is sort of what a book is really about - conflict and character. We know who it is about, but not what it is about.

First thing said:

"Some people must have wandered off the highway onto our road."

This comes on the second page, so thankfully the back story and figurative setting descriptions (author gymnastics) don't last long as a scene starts to unfold: A car pulls up onto the narrator's property which leads to pulling out guns.

I like the writing despite the opening paragraph which isn't necessary where it is. I mean, if it was thrown in somewhere else it's effect would be the same plus it'd have the advantage of being less visible. But as the opening? There are better ways to begin. There is certainly no hook in the first paragraph. However, the story gets going quickly after the reader stumbles through the writer's writer's opening.

Verdict: Pass

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Friday, 5 September 2014

The Last Romanov by Dora Levy Mossanen

1887

The howls of wild aurochs echo deep in the ancient forest as Boris Spiridov spreads his hunting coat over a mattress of leaves and Sabrina Josephine, daughter of a grand duke and favorite in the Romanov Palace squats down as if she has spent her entire life in this forest.

This is the first sentence of what appears to be a preface or prologue. It is short, only five more sentences, but the opening line is long. If you don't believe me, try writing it out a hundred times on the board. Personally, I like adjectives but when they are used willy-nilly as in ancient forest, I begin to wonder. So the forest is ancient. What does an ancient forest look like? Like the Redwoods of California? That's pretty ancient. But from the names given we can assume this is in Russia, so what does an ancient forest look like in Russia? How is the reader to know? How is the reader to form an image, which the author obviously wants the reader to do, as she's using adjectives for a reason. Or is she? Ancient could look like many different things, even though almost all forests are pretty old relative to the people that populate them. So in point of fact, ancient used in this sentence is like deadwood.

As well, what is the difference in squatting between someone who has not been in a forest forever and someone who has? Is there some special pose that I should be aware of? Again, there is a push to create an image in the reader's mind but fails to do so concretely...or even vaguely for that matter.

By the end of this short prologue we learn that a baby has been born.

Chapter 1:

Darya Borisovna Spiridova is startled awake by a persistent knock at her front door.

So this begins with a character waking up. A cliched and therefore quite noncreative way to begin a story. The next lines are curious:

Butterflies flutter against her skin, weave their way around her silver curls, rustle under the covers. A cloud of butterflies floats out of the bedroom and into the vestibule.

I can't tell if this is a metaphor or to be taken literally. In any case, the image is funny; I'm reminded of a scene from Ace Ventura. I read on for this reason but lose interest as the narrative descends into back story with Russian words interspersed to create a sense of place.

First thing said:

"May I help you, Madame?"

Despite my criticism above, there is a scene in the opening, though it takes a while for something meaningful to happen.

Verdict: Fail

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mean Streak by Sandra Brown

Emory hurt all over.

This sentence has all the ingredients of a good hook - almost. It's short, which is good. There's a name instead of a pronoun, which is good. Hurting is good, as it suggests something is not right. However, hurting is not that unusual so although this is a hook of sorts, it's fairly weak. Next line:

It hurt even to breathe. 

This clarifies the hurting a bit to suggest that this pain is probably serious. The next paragraph is a weather report, so not much time, ink or paper is wasted to get to that cliche. It's cold and Emory is underdressed. The fact she's not dressed properly makes the weather report not entirely superfluous. If the writer only stated she was underdressed without stating the cold, readers wouldn't have had enough information to understand the conflict, so weather here is okay, but the weathery description could have been shortened a bit.

This short prologue follows someone in the middle of nowhere, with a fractured foot running from something or someone, until the end when pain skyrockets through her skull. We are left wondering: Did she die or not? So there are a couple questions raised.

Chapter 1:

"Does it hurt this much?"

This is also the first thing said in the novel. Dr. Emory is saying this so the reader is left wondering if this is the same Emory from the prologue and if so are the events in the prologue before or after the events of chapter 1. If not, how many Emorys are there in this book?

The scene is a little dull. A little girl has an earache and Dr. Emory is checking her out. It's not much of anything except a character building scene which reveals that Emory is going away for the weekend, perhaps to the scene of the prologue?

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon

Long Before the Killing Began

There was a time when he dreamt of being the head of a great nation.

Obviously this writer's strength lies in creating great titles and subtitles. In regards to the opening line, it has a hint of preamble. There isn't much difference between There was a time... and Once upon a time.... Is there?

Then the final sentence fragment of the first paragraph of the prologue, inserted like a thundering PS with a drum roll, is:

A nuclear power.

Then:

As president, he would have his finger on the nuclear trigger. With a twitch of that finger he could launch nuclear missiles... He could put an end to the human stink.

It's nice when a story starts with such a sympathetic pronoun. Come on, let's admit it, we've all felt this kind of rage and have all dreamed about there being fewer people around at some point in our lives. Actually, there is something to be said about starting off with the antagonist - and I assume this is the antagonist as I don't think too many people would be rooting for a sociopath protagonist wishing he could blow up the world. Beginning with a disturbed bad guy is a pretty common thing to do in prologues though.

Then we learn this pronoun has issues with The Nightmare (my capitalization) and a wheezing clown that hurts this pronoun for money. Honestly, this sort of hooks me, but alas, it is the prologue and the next page which is chapter 1 has absolutely nothing to do with the prologue, so I can't really be bothered to read on.

Chapter 1:

In the rural Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, August was an unstable month, lurching back and forth between the bright glories of July and the gray squalls of the long winter to come.

So we get some weather in the opening line. Nothing much interesting in this. However, the writer tries (rather feebly in my opinion) to connect this ...month that could erode one's sense of time and place to feeding a character's confusion, or more accurately, at least seeming to. That is to say, the weather is used to introduce a character's state of mind, whose name is, um, Gurney. Anyone like a metaphor with their cup of characterization?

Then we're thrown into some moldy back story about retirement, the wife, moving and kids. It's brief though, so that's good. Unfortunately, it's interrupted with more weather to begin paragraph 3.

First thing said:

"This is our secret."

This is what is said in the Nightmare. First thing a verified character says:

"Is that a tarn?"

By golly, I think it is. However, the characters are not sure and need to discuss it for a bit.

Verdict: Fail

I love the title. If I was reviewing just the title (As I get lazier, I just might start doing that), I'd give this five stars.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Sandman by Lars Kepler

It's the middle of the night, and the snow is blowing in from the sea.

I don't particularly want to review another opening from this author, but this is what landed on my desk, so to speak, so here it is. This is the beginning of some sort of unidentified prologue that is printed in italics, which I find annoying, as if every word is being stressed. The weather cliche is used here to poor effect. The next line introduces a character walking across a bridge. Then we get the third line:

His jeans are stiff with frozen blood.

So a little bit of a problem is introduced here. Yet a couple sentences later we learn that warm blood is trickling down the man's arm. And even later while still on the same page we learn that the man's clothes are flapping around his body - I assume all his clothes except for the stiff jeans? Anyway, we learn this guy has been declared dead, so there is a little hook at the end of this super short prelude.

Chapter 1:

Secure Criminal Psychology Unit
Lowenstromska Hospital

The steel gate closes behind the new doctor with a heavy clang.

After this mundane sentence of a closing door, there is another sentence about the echoing clang. Then a shiver down the spine of the doctor and then some back story about a patient and how long he's been incarcerated before returning to the doctor walking through the facility towards said mental patient.

This opening sets up all right, I suppose. We learn that the doctor is new and where he is, which provides enough material to begin to see how this opening might actually at some point later in the story lead to conflict.

First thing said:

"Jurek Walter must never be alone with any member of staff."

Dialogue that moves plot forward and reveals some character is good. Bonus that this comes early, on the second page of chapter 1.

Verdict: Pass (barely)

Finally, the author gets a pass, though, just barely. I think it has to do with the subtitle in chapter 1: Secure Criminal Psychology Unit  and subsequent setting, and not because of a bloodied prologie, which is not that interesting.

Sincerely,
Rudy Globird

Monday, 1 September 2014

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

One morning, in a flat in one of the great buildings in Gorokhovaia Street, the population of which was sufficient to constitute that of a provincial town, there was lying in bed a gentleman named Ilya Ilyitch Oblomov.

This gets the bed setting opening. The thing that will save this is if something else is happening in the bed, like it's on fire, or he's sharing it with a dead body who's hogging all the blankets.

The next line:

He was a fellow of a little over thirty, of medium height, and of pleasant exterior.

And there is much more character description, mostly of the physical nature that you see in police reports.

A little later we learn why he's in bed:

With Oblomov, lying in bed was neither a necessity (as in the case of an invalid or of a man who stands badly in need of sleep) nor an accident (as in the case of a man who is feeling worn out) nor a gratification (as in the case of a man who is purely lazy). Rather, it represented his normal condition. Whenever he was at home--and almost always he was at home-- he would spend his time in lying on his back.

This is a little out of the ordinary but not really a hook. The conflict that follows is this guy is struggling to get out of bed. It is really the ultimate in the bed setting opening and of course there is more happening in bed other than someone just waking up to greet a plot. The fact this guy is in bed and can't get up is the plot. So this gets a pass.

First thing said:

"What is the matter?"

Verdict: Pass (barely)

This is part of the series: the top 100 novels from Daniel S. Burt's book called Novel 100, the top 100 novels of all time. There is debate of course as to what should be on that list, but his opinions are as good as any. Oblomov is the 82nd greatest novel of all time.

Sincerely,
Theodore Moracht