First Sentences or Paragraphs #5: Best European Fiction 2010 Edition

Posted by @ 5:24 am on December 16th, 2010

[series note: This post is the fifth of five, in a week-long series examining  first sentences or paragraphs. It’s not my intention to be prescriptive about what kinds of first sentences writers ought to be writing. Instead, I hope to simply take a look at five sets of first sentences for the purpose of thinking about how they introduce the reader to the story or novel to which they belong. I plan to post them without commentary, as one might post a photograph or painting, and open up the comment threads to your observations as readers. Some questions that interest me and might interest you include: 1. How is the first sentence (or paragraph — I’ll include some of those, too, since some first sentences require the next few sentences to even be available for this kind of analysis) interesting or not interesting on grounds of language? 2. Does the first sentence introduce any particular (or general feeling of) trouble or conflict or dissonance or tension into the story that makes the reader want to keep reading? 3. Does the first sentence do anything to immerse the reader in the donnee, the ground rules, the world of the story, those orienting questions such as who speaks, when and where are we in space and time, etc.? 4. Since the first sentence, in the wild, doesn’t exist in the contextless manner in which I’ve presented these, in what kinds of ways does examining them like this create false ideas about the uses and functions of first sentences? What kinds of things ought first sentences be doing? What kinds of things do first sentences not do often enough? (It seems likely to me that you will have competing ideas about first sentences. Please offer them here. Every idea or observation gets our good attention.) The sentence/paragraph sets we’ve been or will be observing: 1. first sentences from Mary Miller’s Big World; 2. first sentences from physically large novels; 3. the first sentences from every book written by Philip Roth; 4. first sentences from the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction; 5. first sentences from Best European Fiction 2010.]

“Albania is a country where no one ever dies.”

– from The Country Where No One Ever Dies, Ornela Vorpsi

“If I had urinated immediately after breakfast, the mob would never have burnt down the orphanage.”

– “The Orphan and the Mob,” Julian Gough

“A cousin of mine had an aquarium built on her terrace, a rather imposing tank where strange, exotic sea creatures amused themselves in the company of all sorts of local specimen, destined to be eaten.”

– from While Sleeping, Antonio Fian

“Castor P. was going out to die.”

– “And All Turned Moon,” Georgi Gospodinov

“After a certain length of time–or would it be better to say: uncertain?–I began wasting hours and hours on questions such as: ‘Budapester,’ ‘Budian,’ or ‘Pester?'”

– “Veres,” Neven Usumovic

“In the ninety-ninth year of his life, approaching his one hundredth birthday, Jeremiah Kadron returned, after a long journey, to his native Budapest, to his own house on Leander Street, where he had been brought as a two-year-old straight from the maternity ward, and which remained his permanent residence, excepting his trips around the world, some of which were brief, others quite lengthy.”

– “Jeremiah’s Terrible Tale,” George Konrad

“Didi had scars on her wrists and came from Bratislava:”

– “Didi,” Michal Witkowski

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