A year in first lines | 2017

Hey, you,

Yes, you. Do you feel like playing a game? This is an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader, and I first saw it on Beyond Eden Rock:“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

Here is what my year looked like in first lines:


Oh we can afford very well to laugh at their ideas


“Ok, I confess: I’ve violated your correspondence, and I did it more than once. In my defence, though, I have to say that your letters read almost as if they were begging me to open them. Read me, you seem to be writing. I am here, too.”


Don’t ever wait for the swallows,


“Your short story collection Swallow Summer, translated by Lyn Marven (2016. Originally, Schwalbensommer, 2003) made me think of tracks made of air: we might know they have just been travelled by birds, but we cannot trace back the moment immediately before their departure, or the very first movement of their wings. Your stories felt to me as if you were trying to hold that very memory of the wings springing into flight: as we read, something touches us with its wind, yet we can never really touch it back, or get hold of it.”


I’d forgotten it was summer outside


“In your novel The Vet’s Daughter (1959), I felt I was being lured into a strange place, tender and cruel. I was being lured by a voice, tenuous but powerful, pushing me through the door into a confined domestic horror. It was lonely, dangerous and grotesque, but it was a voice I very much loved.”


We don’t have the more refined illnesses here



“Reading your novel City Folk and Country Folk, translated by Nora Seligman Favorov (Городские и деревенские, 1863), feels like following a deceptively simple pattern with the tip of our fingers: we can cherish it for its softness to the touch; or we can look further into its intricacy, and admire the way the different threads weave in and turn over each other.”


This moment of daybreak, and this singing back and forth


“I must confess that I have read your diary – and I did it twice. In my defense, I guess I could say that it is not exactly a diary, as we nowadays conceive of it; that it is highly imaginative rather than objective; and that it was meant to be a public record. I read it in two different translations: the more recent one, by Sonja Arntzen & Itō Moriyuki (2014), and the older one, by Ivan Morris (1971).”


If you know about yourself, presumably you know about at least one other person


“Your novel The Charioteer (1953) is crossed over by what it seems to be a tense string, a rein held so tightly by opposing forces that we feel it is about to break. Drawing us into an atmosphere of war, blackouts, raids, transient relationships, urgent loves and forced secrecy – in short, an atmosphere of things that are about to fall apart -, you force your novel into this narrow in-between  moment that takes place just before something inevitably has to break and burst out into the open.”


The delicacy of one’s intellect, one’s sanity, when it is laid open to the specialists


“In your autobiographical novel The Snake Pit (1946) you throw us right inside the mind of a woman struggling to recover mental health. You make us feel in the heat of things, trapped in her delusions – to the point where it is very difficult for us to know where exactly, in a spectrum, sanity is to be placed.”


For this book is the talking voice that runs on,


“Once I entered your Novel on Yellow Paper (1936), I immediately noticed three things: that I was being held captive; that I was complicit in my captivity; and that the thing that held me inside was neither plot nor character, but something less tangible. I had fallen in love with a voice. Yours, I presume, but not quite.”


Home is a place in the mind


“If your novella The Visitor (2000, originally written in the 1940’s) had a face, it would be one of a trapped animal, diverted from its burrow, silently showing its teeth to its predator. A strange and moveable mask that would convey a mixture of fear, loneliness, and ferocious anger.”


From now on I shall only wear white,


“Sometimes I feel that your novel Miss Emily (2015) is haunted by the ghost of something – a bird? – it distractedly let slip out of its realm of possibilities.”


but thousands of bells clanged inside me


“Rereading your stories after so long makes me feel as if I were looking through colour-stained glass: each story comes with the shadow of my previous reading of it. The shadow of how it felt like at the time; the stain of what I had not understood properly then, and do now; or the imprint of all that I understood at that time, and forgot, and cannot possibly recapture now.”


material things could be altered by the light, or the absence of light, in which you looked at them


“I felt as if I was entering this house, too, along with your characters – the old country house where your novel The Past (2015) is set. It is musty, cold, and it needs repairs which none of the four siblings who inhabit the story can really afford. They will spend a last summer there, before putting it on sale. For each of the siblings, the rooms will assume slightly different qualities.”

And that’s all.

How about you? I would love to read the first lines that have made your year.

If you enjoyed the game, feel yourself tagged! I invite KarenMelissa, Belinda, Paula, and Maria Luíza to play along 🙂

Yours truly,


Connie Scanlon, “Riverbank Grapes”, 2015


2 thoughts on “A year in first lines | 2017

  1. Oh, I very much enjoyed this! What a good idea, and what good books you read. I do have a copy of City Folks and Country Hopes (which I’d completely forgotten about).


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