When you select a book to buy at the bookstore, one often tends to leaf through the middle to consider if the style is enticing. I do that: I also try to fish for the subject matter.
However, my favorite books are the ones that begin with a strong incipit. The incipit of a text, or of music are the first few words of an opening, the first notes of a tune. I think I like the word "incipit" as much as I enjoy reading a perfectly written one. It rings like the beginning of an amazing tune.
When I open a book and I fall in love with the text at the incipit, a magical thing occurs. I smile with excitement. I read a paragraph and the emotions force me to close the book again. I promise to start again later. So I can digest the words, the style, the beginning of a love affair. My heart rate is too high for me to read with comprehension.
This has happened many times but not as many times as I have started books. Sometimes the impact on me is so strong that I know exactly where I was at the time and always remember the paragraph, the scene. Till this day, impressive incipits have rarely disappointed me.
The most memorable one ever was "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie. I sat on the stairs in the entrance of the Geneva apartment building, waiting for my son to be dropped off by the school bus, some years ago. I began reading about the grandfather of the narrator and his journey across the Kashmir lake with a strange man who was rowing his boat. The mist, the old men, the hushed early morning atmosphere were the first sentences that I ever read by Salman Rushdie. In those lines, I discovered a gem of a book.
I also enjoyed the opening of Saramago's "Blindness", which I have already discussed at length in this blog. When I cross streets and wait for traffic lights I now always remember the opening paragraph of the book. The busy traffic, and that one car that remains still at the red light, even when that light changes to green, and that description of blindness.
However, I have been disapointed a few times by memorable openings to certain novels. I am first drawn in but then I grow restless. Most recently I picked up a French book, "Les Yeux Jaunes des Crocodiles", by Katherine Pancol. I was sitting on a bus when I started it. A woman cuts herself while peeling a potato and cries out of the despair of her heart. I was spell bound by the style, the thought process and the simple narrative. However the rest of the book became monotonous. There were too many characters and not enough character development. I am currently halfway through it, and I now reach for the book half heartedly. It almost narrates like a TV series. I was almost going to mail it across the Antlantic to my sister, but have renounced the thought. There was one example of a disappointing development to a remarkable incipit.
I guess the moral would be to never judge a book by its cover (look how colorful it is above) or by its incipit!