“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst.”
These are the first lines of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I was reading them aloud to my daughter on the beach yesterday (she was annoyed that I’d brought a book and she hadn’t). We got as far as Sophie Mol’s funeral. It was spellbinding. I’m sure that when I failed to finish the book twenty years ago, I must’ve been blind to this, but on reading aloud, all the details sparkled.
More first lines best read aloud:
“When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”
“It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread.”
“Rose Pickles knew something bad was going to happen. Something really bad, this time.”
“2 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.”
“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
You can try and guess which books they’re from, if you like, or just savour them for themselves. I particularly enjoy the effect of unexpected frankness when reading aloud ; also of repetition, sometimes unnoticed on silent reading, which really asserts itself.
Now here are some first lines from favourites I could never imagine reading aloud.
“By dawn at least half the members of the Kelly gang were badly wounded and it was then the creature appeared from behind police lines.”
“She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.”
“In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge, which is of iron, and London Bridge, which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.”
Typing that last one of Dickens sets me wondering Why “which is of iron…which is of stone”? Is it a rowing rhythm? An old rhyme? Paid by the word? It’s suitably insinuating ; I don’t imagine anyone who’s ever read the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend can ever be by the Thames at night, Shard or no Shard, and not have the scene come to mind, Lizzie and her father in the “slime and ooze” “doing something that they often did…seeking what they often sought”.