Beginnings

Great openings – all very different but all gripping

“I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven”,

Memoirs, opening words, Harriette Wilson, 1789-1846

It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead. There was a garden fork sticking out of the dog. The points of the fork must have gone all the way through the dog and into the ground because the fork had not fallen over. I decided that the dog was probably killed with the fork because I could not see any other wounds in the dog and I do not think you would stick a garden fork into a dog after it had died for some other reason, like cancer for example, or a road accident. But I could not be certain about this.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Mark Haddon

CHAPTER ONE

Mymensingh District, East Pakistan, 1967

An hour and forty-five minutes before Nazneen’s life began – began as it would proceed for quite some time, that is to say uncertainly – her mother Rupban felt an iron fist squeeze her belly. Rupban squatted on a low three-legged stool outside the kitchen hut. She was plucking a chicken because Hamid’s cousins had arrived from Jessore and there would be a feast. ‘Cheepy-cheepy, you are old and stringy,’ she said, calling the bird by name as she always did, ‘but I would like to eat you, indigestion or no indigestion. And tomorrow I will have only boiled rice, no parathas.’

Brick Lane Monica Ali

1 The Five Beginnings

I am, I discover, a very untidy man.

Look at me. Without my periwig, I am an affront to neatness. My hair (what is left of it) is the colour of sand and wiry as hogs’ bristles; my ears are of uneven size; my forehead is splattered with freckles; my nose, which of course my wig can’t conceal, however low I wear it, is unceremoniously flat, as if I had been hit at birth.

Was I hit at birth? I do not believe so, as my parents were gentle and kindly people, but I will never know now. They died in a fire in 1662.

Restoration Rose Tremain

I remember, in no particular order:–              a shiny inner wrist;–            steam rising from a wet sink as a hot frying pan is laughingly tossed into it;–            gouts of sperm circling a plughole, before being sluiced down the full length of a tall home;“ a river rushing nonsensically upstream, its wave and wash lit by half a dozen chasing torchbeams;

–            another river, broad and grey, the direction of its flow disguised by a stiff wind exciting the surface;

–              bathwater long gone cold behind a locked door.

This last isn’t something I actually saw, but what you end

up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.

The Sense of an Ending  Julian Barnes

I told you last night that I might be gone sometime, and you said, Where, and I said, To be with the Good Lord, and you said, Why, and I said, Because I’m old, and you said, I don’t think you’re old. And you put your hand in my hand and you said. You aren’t very old, as if that settled it. I told you you might have a very different life from mine, and from the life you’ve had with me, and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life. And you said, Mama already told me that And then you said, Don’t laugh! because you thought I was laughing at you. You reached up and put your fingers on my lips and gave me that look I never in my life saw on any other face besides your mother’s. It’s a kind of furious pride, very passionate and stern. I’m always a little surprised to find my eyebrows unsinged after I’ve suffered one of those looks. I will miss them.

Gilead Marilynne Robinson

He belonged to that class of men – vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever – who were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so. And it helped that some women, believed he was a genius in need of rescue. But the Michael Beard of this time was a man of narrowed mental condition,  anhedonic, monothematic, stricken. His fifth marriage was disintegrating and he should have known how to behave, how to take the long view, how to take the blame. Weren’t marriages, his marriages, tidal, with one rolling out just before another rolled in? But this one was different. He did not know how to behave, long views pained him, and for once there was no blame for him to assume, as he saw it. It was his wife who was having the affair, and having it flagrantly, punitively, certainly without remorse. He was discovering in himself, among an army of emotions, intense moments of shame and longing. Patrice was seeing a builder, their builder, the one who had repointed their house, fitted their kitchen, retiled their bathroom, the very same heavy-set fellow who In a tea break had once shown Michael a photo of his mock-Tudor house, renovated and tudorised by his own hand, with a boat on a trailer under a Victorian-style lamp post on the concreted front driveway, and space on which to erect a decommissioned red phone box. Beard was surprised to find how complicated It was to be the cuckold. Misery was not simple. Let no one say that this late in life he was immune to fresh experience.

He had it coming. His four previous wives, Maisie, Ruth, Eleanor, Karen, who all still took a distant interest in his life, would have been exultant and he hoped they would not be told. None of his marriages had lasted more than six years and it was an achievement of sorts to have remained childless. His wives had discovered early on  what a poor or frightening prospect of a father he presented and they had protected themselves and got out. He liked to think that if he had caused unhappiness, it was never for long, and it counted for something that he was still on speaking terms with all his exes.

Solar Ian McEwan

I put my bags down on the doorstep and knock three times. I don’t bang hard like a copper, but it’s not as though I’m ashamed to be knocking either.

The porch light comes on and the landlady opens the door. She’s younger and prettier than I expected.

‘Hello,’ I say. ‘I’m Patrick.’

‘1 thought you’d be here hours ago’

It’s after ten and I was due at six. My mouth’s gone dry, but I smile, friendly as I can.

‘1 missed the connection,’ I say.

I’ve not meant the lie, but she’s forced me.

‘You’d better come in.’

We face each other in the hallway. I’ve got my back to the door and she’s got her back to the stairs, I should say something, but I can’t think what. I put my bags down again and my hands hang heavy.

‘You’ll have to meet the other boarders tomorrow,’ she says. ‘They’ve gone out.’

She takes hold of her long brown hair and pulls it over her left breast like a scarf.

 This is How  M R Hyland

The child was provided for, but the new arrangement was inevitably confounding to a young intelligence intensely aware that something had happened which must matter a good deal and looking anxiously out for the effects of so great a cause. It was to be the fate of this patient little girl to see much more than she at first understood, but also even at first to understand much more than any little girl, however patient, had perhaps ever understood before. Only a drummer-boy in a ballad or a story could have been so in the thick of the fight. She was taken into the confidence of passions on which she fixed just the stare she might have had for images bounding across the wall in the slide of a magic-lantem. Her little world was phantasmagoric – strange shadows dancing on a sheet. It was as if the whole performance had been given for her – a mite of a half-­scared infant in a great dim theatre. She was in short introduced to life with a liberality in which die selfishness of others found its account, and there was nothing to avert the sacrifice but the modesty of her youth.

Her first term was with her father,  who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire.  Even at that moment, however, she had a scared anticipation of fatigue, a guilty sense of not rising to the occasion, feeling the charm of the violence with which the stiff unopened envelopes, whose big monograms- Ida bristled with monograms – she would have liked to see, were made to whizz, like dangerous missiles, through the air.

What Maisie Knew Henry James

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