What is it about the first lines of certain books? Can you just tell that something is going to be amazing from the way it begins?
Wanting something of a palate cleanser after the Jack Reacher novel I just devoured, this morning I randomly started “A Bend in the River” by V.S. Naipaul. Here is how it begins:
The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.
Nazruddin, who had sold me the shop cheap, didn’t think I would have it easy when I took over. The country, like others in Africa, had had its troubles after independence. The town in the interior, at the bend in the great river, had almost ceased to exist; and Nazruddin said I would have to start from the beginning.
“At the bend in the great river” gives me chills. It’s like a fairy tale opening. But the specificity of “Nazruddin” (the mysterious Nazruddin) and the situation (which we grasp at once despite very few facts) make this utterly real. Also, there is a true confidence to the writing. It raises all kinds of interesting questions and sets the scene dead on. But it does everything without fanfare and histrionics.