Letters of Life

Favourite First Lines (II)

In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. — Patrick Suskind, Perfume: The Story of A Murderer, 1985

Apparently the movie version of this gimmicky novel which bestsold in the late 80s flopped early this year. I wonder how they made a movie about smell? That itself begs a visit to the video store down the road.

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1849

Big fan.

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. — AA Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926

I was the tender age of 17 when I discovered Winnie-the-Pooh, or was it 23? At this point, it doesn’t make a difference. I am obviously a late bloomer. A poem from Milne’s poetry anthology Now We Are Six even made it to the back of my wedding invitation.

If standing alone on the back doorstep, Tom allowed himself to weep tears, they were tears of anger.
— Phillipa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden, 1958

Children’s books about time travel are so beguiling that I can hardly read adult ones. Too complicated. This one is a classic, and much of the time travel Tom does is at the witching hour of midnight, my favouritest hour of all time.

A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” — Graham Greene, The End of the Affair, 1951

As is the case with another author, Edith Wharton, I was introduced to their works through the movie versions first. The actors who played the protagonists in this story set in World War II London, Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, were so memorable that I immediately got the book after watching the movie. Likewise with another Greene novel that I watched onscreen: The Quiet American. This was Brendan Fraser before The Mummy got to him.

I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. — C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, 1956

To be honest, I need to read this book again, because I struggled to finish it and didn’t half comprehend it when I did. Still, he is one of God’s master writers and the world would be a lesser place without his works.

When was it I first heard of the grass harp? Long before the autumn we lived in the China tree; an earlier autumn, then, and of course it was Dolly who told me, no one else would have known to call it that, a grass harp.” — Truman Capote, The Grass Harp, 1945

The authenticity of the conversational tone, as if the author was whispering it into your ear, is the result of hundreds and hundreds of conversations Truman Capote wrote, until he developed his inimitable style.

I have been asked to tell you about the back of the North Wind. An old Greek writer mentions a people who lived there, and were so comfortable that they could not bear it any longer, and drowned themselves. — George MacDonald, On The Back of The North Wind, 18–

Sometimes, it’s where the book was purchased which makes it special. This hardcover I found in a little bookstore in Victoria, Vancouver Island, in the summer of 1994. Thus, for sentimental reasons rather than for the opening line, which borders on the morbid, I rather like this children’s story.

There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire. — Neil Gaiman, Stardust, 1999

This sentence was the reason I bought the book.

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