Saturday, January 22, 2011

Well, it's a start...

In an interview on BBC Radio's Open Book programme, American author Jay Parini spoke about the importance of a novel's opening line.

He has just published a book of biographical-historical fiction, The Passages of Herman Melville. (He is also the author of The Last Station, a novel about the life of Leo Tolstoy, recently made into a film.)  Like so many others, Mr. Parini thinks the first line of Moby Dick is hard to beat:  "Call me Ishmael."

One Malaysian, agog.  
He mentioned a friend and fellow American writer who had won a grant to write a novel.  The friend concocted what he thought was a stellar opening line for his work:  "All of Malaysia was agog."  He never got any further with the novel, however, because he could never quite conceive what all of Malaysia might be agog about.

I do love a catchy opening line, but I wonder if the first line should be the first priority, especially in the absence of a plot.  I also wonder if this fellow had to return the grant money.  The idea that a writer might receive a five-figures grant in US dollars for writing one line would certainly leave most of Malaysia agog.

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