Catton’s Favourite First Line Unfolds Breathlessly
Man Booker nominee New Zealand author Eleanor Catton chooses her favourite first line for a Guardian catalogue, and it’s from another of our own, Janet Frame’s 1961 novel Faces in the Water.
Faces in the Water begins: “They have said that we owe allegiance to Safety, that he is our Red Cross who will provide us with ointment and bandages for our wounds and remove the foreign ideas the glass beads of fantasy the bent hairpins of unreason embedded in our minds.”
“Never has an opening of a book arrested me so absolutely than when I first encountered Janet Frame’s extraordinary Faces in the Water,” Catton says. “Frame’s authority is a kind of audacity, but a sly audacity, strangely wistful, strangely desperate. I love the archness of ‘they have said’ and the elevation of Safety as ‘he’ – the first impression is of stylistic confidence and purpose – but the oddness of ‘glass beads of fantasy’ and ‘bent hairpins of unreason’ is unsettling, both to the reader and the sense of the sentence; the air of confidence doesn’t ebb exactly, but it alters. I love, too, the way the rest of the sentence unfolds breathlessly, unencumbered by punctuation.”
Catton, 27, is the author of longlist-nominated The Luminaries. The Man Booker prize winner will be named on 15 October.