Friday, January 20, 2012

First Line Friday!

“At five o’clock that morning reveille was sounded, as usual, by the blows of a hammer on a length of rail hanging up near the staff quarters.”
This is, in my opinion, a great first line. Let’s dissect this bad boy.

We’ve got staff quarters and reveille being sounded. Right off the bat we know this tale will unfold in the confines of some well-ordered, regimented existence.

It’s sounded at five o’clock, so we know we’re not at summer camp. And it’s not being trumpeted from a bugle, so we know we’re not in the army. Where then?

Well, it’s happening as usual- just like it always does- and it’s being banged out by a hammer on a length of rail. Sounds cruel.  Sounds heartless. And efficient and brutal and any number of other things. Sounds like a Soviet gulag.

This is how Alexander Solzhenitsyn welcomes us to the Siberian prison camp where his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  is set. As you can gather from the title, the book only covers the events of a single day, but the reader feels the monotony and tedium of an entire prison sentence in the space of a very few pages. He pulls it off with that great opening, and by closing with the same image he led with:
“There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.
“Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.
“The three extra days were for leap years.”


No comments:

Post a Comment