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“I am an invisible man.”

Invisible man

I’m a sucker for opening lines. That’s why I include the opening line in each novel I review, and I’ve posted about some of my favorites before, like the opening lines from The Blind Assassin and The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Lord of the Flies, and I even posted about the Bulwer-Litton fiction contest—a battle to see who can write the worst opening line to a fake novel.

A book’s opening sets its tone. A bad first line is like an offense starting a football game with a false start on the first play. Immediately, they go backwards five yards.

A good first line pulls you in right away. It can even dive right into tension and intrigue. It makes you care and want to read more.

I’m digging Invisible Man for a lot of reasons—the majority of which has to do with Ralph Ellison. Wow. What a writer.

And, in my meaningless opinion, Ellison pulls off one of the best opening paragraphs I’ve read.

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie extoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.”

If you know the premise of this novel—that the protagonist is an African American man in 1950s Harlem, then you get the sense, right away, where this novel is going.

It’s a fabulous opener, and once you read further into the novel, as I am now getting, you’ll see even more clearly how strong an opener that is. The infamous battle royal seen is one of the most powerful chapters I’ve read.

Also, mostly unrelated, the “bodiless heads” line reminds me a little of Infinite Jest’s awesome opener. So there’s that.

It’s been so long since I’ve read Invisible Man, I almost feel like I’m reading it for the first time. Outstanding novel.

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I obviously need to read this now. Thanks for the suggestion, and putting the titillating first paragraph out there!

    Like

    October 4, 2012
    • Go for it. Great book. I’m going to talk about the “Battle Royal” scene next week.

      Like

      October 4, 2012
  2. I think that it is rare for an author to be able to hook you on the first line! Rare, but not impossible!

    Like

    October 4, 2012
  3. That is indeed a brilliant opening line! I, too, love a good opening line that grabs me and pulls me into the story from the get-go. Sadly though this doesn’t happen often enough, which is why I reread the first page of a story two or three times before moving on.

    I’ve put this book on my to-read list.

    Like

    October 5, 2012
  4. Ya, I used the book among other postmodernism novels for my literature class. My favorite character though is Rhinehart. He appears at the end of the book, but he is the consummate postmodern character.
    you should also check out the works of John Barth, and Thomas Pynchon!

    Like

    January 31, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Great Stuff on the Writers’ Blogs, October 4 and 5, 2012 « cochisewriters
  2. Is This The Most Degrading Scene In Literature? | 101 Books

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