Skip to content
Advertisements

What Do You Think Of This Opening?

Today’s post is simple.

First, read the opening paragraph to The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen.

THAT morning’s ice, no more than a brittle film, had cracked and was now floating in segments. These tapped together, or, parting, left channels of dark water, down which swans in slow indignation swam. The island stood in frozen woody brown dusk; it was now between three and four in the afternoon. A sort of breath from the clay, from the city outside the park, condensing, made the air unclear; through this, the trees round the lake soared frigidly up. Bronze cold of January bound the sky and the landscape; the sky was shut to the sun–but the swans, the rims of ice, the pallid withdrawn Regency terraces had an unnatural burnish, as though cold were light. There is something momentous about the height of winter. Steps rang on the bridges, and along the black walks. This weather had set in; it would freeze harder tonight.

Now, what’s your initial reaction to having read that? What are your thoughts on what this novel may or may not be like?

I know what mine is but I don’t want to influence yours so we’ll revisit this on Thursday. If you open this book and read that first paragraph, what’s your reaction?

Advertisements
37 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stunning piece of writing. There’s a sense of foreboding and of resignation. “As though cold were light”. Wow, poetry. Looking forward to hearing more about the novel…I’m intrigued.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  2. Brandon #

    That passage was written by someone who loves the sound of language. It’s more poetry than prose, and it’s really pretty and very atmospheric. Would probably be lovely to read out loud. I tend to prefer quick, scannable sentences that don’t get in the way of the story, though. I’m not sure I’d enjoy this book. Guess I’m not the high-lit type.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  3. Beautiful writing, but no action. I’d close the book.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  4. Louise put it well. Well-written. Beautiful imagery. Still boring. Hopefully action is introduced in the second paragraph or at least an interesting character.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  5. Makes me miss Pennsylvania and a proper winter. But I would also not be interested in continuing reading this book unless I had the promise of action yet to come…

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  6. That’s a beautiful establishment of time and place. I get the sense that the narrator’s beloved solitude is about to be broken.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  7. Andrea Ward (@citrus_sunshine) #

    Beautiful paragraph, but I think it would drive me nuts if the whole book was that way.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  8. This will be a dark story. Bowen’s using all of the colors in her literary palette to etch out an ominous winter setting in.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  9. Lucille #

    I’m reminded of the first and second paragraphs of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, where the whole mood of the book is set. (If you want to feel fog, read Bleak House.) Beginnings like this usually “put the frame around the picture” that has yet to unfold. “…swans in slow indignation swam.”: Wow; beautiful.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  10. The first two lines are wonderfully written but as I kept reading, I felt it was becoming a repetitive description of winter. “It would freeze harder tonight” seems a sharp fall from “swans in slow indignation swam..”.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  11. Well, this is going to be depressing (in a good way). Very poetic.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  12. This feels, to me, like the sort of book I’d want to curl up with under a quilt with a hot cup of tea — or swing on the porch with some iced tea, seeing as how summer is coming and it might be nice to read such a lovely description of winter in the middle of July — but in any case it seems like it is going to be the sort of book that you have to savor for the prose and the setting, rather than mow through for the action. But I haven’t read this one, so I don’t really know.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  13. I think it’s beautifully written but it immediately turns me off from the book. It sounds like it’ll be one of those novels with more imagery and description then action.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  14. M. #

    I just hope it’s not so much of sulking. The imagery is already a sort-of foreshadowing of fulfilling the book’s grieving theme (based on the title), but beautiful imagery nonetheless. It would be really boring if it’s all about depression or loss of life.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  15. Denise #

    Beautifully written opening. This seems to just set the stage in a literal way, because now the characters will act on this lonely wintry stage. I will agree with others that ‘This weather had set in; It would freeze harder tonight’ is a big ol’ cop out at the end of that paragraph but it also moves the poetry and scene-setting into the breath right before an action. I like the descriptive imagery, I would read on.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  16. The writing is very beautiful and poetic but I hope there is some action in the story or at least some great character development. For me, a good book is well-written and either has a captivating plot or is a great character study. The first paragraph doesn’t tell me much. I would need to read more – maybe the first chapter- before making a decision.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  17. Poetic language, but sometimes a little lumpy. There’s no immediate sense of direction or action, but there is an atmosphere conveyed. The extract is way too short to make any further judgements. I’d be intrigued to see what elements are introduced next.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  18. finesharpie #

    It is beautiful, I’d be crazy not to say it, right? But shameless as I am, I have never and would never think so long and so hard about ice or a cold day in January. Yup, just got the certainty click in my brain. Never. Would.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  19. I’m with Brandon.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  20. The imagery and tone are cold, and either foreboding or depressed. It’s either setting up for a sad and hopeless story or for a new beginning. I don’t know anything about the story or it’s author, but I would hazard a guess that the story would be the latter if penned in the 19th century and the former if penned in the 20th. The title suggests 20th. I’m curious…

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  21. Such gorgeous, meticulous descriptive writing! If I had just opened this book, I’d be pleasantly surprised and would want to read further. When a book opens with action, it might interest me, but it doesn’t tell me much about the author’s style. Heck, most stories written as assignments by kids focus heavily on action and dialogue. I’m looking for something else in my reading.

    I’m much more likely to continue reading if I know the writer lovingly and purposefully chose his or her words and likely agonized over getting them to convey precisely what he or she wants to express. This sort of thoughtful writing impresses me. This also suggests to me that the author will be just as careful when choosing words to describe or speak through his or her characters, hence providing the basis for great character development.

    From what I’ve previously read about the book, I wasn’t that interested in reading it. The summaries usually focus on the plot, and the plot synopsis for this book doesn’t do much for me. (I’m not much of a plot-centric reader. It’s hard to tempt me with a plot, but a plot that turns me OFF in some way can ruin a book for me very quickly.) But this suggests I might love it for the language – a very happy surprise. I’m actually going to go put it on my TBR list now.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  22. Living in London, this description of the pallid light in winter really resonates with me. But it is highly descriptive with little to drive things forward. The literary descriptions are poetic, as everyone says, but that can only so far. Just I was starting to lose interest, the last line built a sense of action: “This weather had set in; it would freeze harder tonight.”

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  23. From the responses, I can see that some of your readers are “open with action” readers. For a paragraph with such beautiful writing, I’d give this author more than a paragraph’s chance. There is a sense of foreboding, and I’m thinking that something bad is going to happen that will keep me interested in the story,

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  24. It is a beautifully written paragraph. Reading the paragraph once made me want to read it again. When I read the paragraph, the writer made me want to slow down and take in the beauty of the words. It’s almost as if it is a hypnotic trance the language put me in. This is not a writer who gives me an ordinary language. This writer knows that English isn’t just for the popular potboiler but also it is the English of Shakespeare and Dickens and Keats. And it tells me that if I trust her, I may just get something special.

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  25. My reaction is that it’s gorgeous!

    Like

    May 6, 2014
  26. sally1137 #

    It left me cold. :). Actually, I love the beautiful description and imagery. I would give it a hundred pages before deciding whether to put it down.

    Like

    May 7, 2014
  27. Overkill. Some of the sentences are beautiful but it is too much – even description needs to go somewhere.

    Like

    May 7, 2014
  28. I would know that the novel was written a while ago, when readers had more patience.

    Like

    May 7, 2014
  29. This paragraph is a very poetic way of describing an utterly cold and lonely winter afternoon and the start of a long frozen night. What do I think it will be about? I have no clue but whatever it is about, it feels like it’s going to be a sad tragic poetic story.

    Like

    May 7, 2014
  30. rowingaround #

    A beautiful opening of a book, the sentences are connected to each other perfectly. It feels almost like reading a poem. But still I would need another paragraph to know if it is worth reading, as this part in a way sounds a bit depressing.

    Like

    May 8, 2014
  31. 1banjo #

    A weather report in the first paragraph on the first page. (Shakes head). Nope, not for me.

    Like

    May 10, 2014
  32. It is very beautiful and poetic but the icy imagery in that paragraph makes me feel apprehensive, as though something bad is going to happen. It is, quite literally, a chilling paragraph and it makes it sound like the novel will be a sad one. Perhaps some terrible event will happen in it. I have no idea because I hadn’t even heard of this novel before I read your post! I look forward to seeing what you think of the opening paragraph.

    Like

    May 11, 2014
  33. Almost Dickens like in the evocation of scene. Cold, dead, foreboding, dense. Makes one want to keep reading while sitting by a fire to keep warm.

    Like

    May 11, 2014
  34. Vocabulary est hypnotique

    Like

    May 15, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Let’s Revisit That Opening From The Death Of The Heart | 101 Books
  2. The Bright Side Of The Death Of The Heart | 101 Books
  3. Book #71: The Death Of The Heart | 101 Books

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: