One of the aspects of The Meaning of Night that was strongly played up in all the publicity noise is its opening sentence:
"After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn's for an oyster supper."
As opening sentences go, it's not half bad. It sets a tone, creates suspense, hooks the idle browser and sets their mind a-spinning with breathless questions: "What does the narrator have against red hair on a man?" Pant. "Did he have a ginger moustache?" Pant. "Is Quinn's really the best place for an oyster supper?" Pant. "Did the month have a 'Y' in it?" Slow, rhythmic breathing.
Some fairly casual, unscientific meandering through sites of a writerly bent indicates that a killer opening line is worth its weight in shellfish to some writers. So maybe I'm a bit perverse, because to me, an opening like this fairly shrieks, "Look at ME! I'm Dark, Spooky And Mysterious! You Will Read More! You Cannot Resist The Power Of The Mysterious Murder And The Bivalves Of Doom!" And all this shouting and waving just puts me on edge. It makes me nervous.
Maybe when I was young and innocent, this sort of kick-off to a big weighty novel would have brought on the desired frostbite-of-the-spine and opening-of-the-wallet effect. In spades. But now I am more likely to greet such sensational openings with an attitude as bilious as an undercooked poached egg. I'm into a novel for the long-haul, not a flighty few pages of sensationalism.
Why so jaded? Why is all not sweetness and light in readerland (local branch)? In my case, I can trace this back to the Dallas-shower phenomenon that plagued novels of the early nineties. The introductory pages of books would be doused in smut, blood and intrigue, only to drop the ball spectacularly by chapter 2 or earlier, when All Was Revealed To Be Only A Dream. Words cannot express precisely how medieval this particular cliché makes me feel.
Worse still, perhaps, was when it was all a Cunning Play On Words With A Fake French Accent And A Thin Moustache Designed To Dupe Those With Grubby Minds. I mean the type that around page eight whips off its mask and announces, chillingly, "Ahahahaaa! Yeu readers. So naïve and fooleesh!"
Tosses head in time to sinister accordian music.
"Could yeu not tell zat zee Murder Most 'Orrible was only Metaphoricale? Eeet was a Ruse! A Tease! And so was zee ozzer teasing scene of mine! Eeet was only a foxy-foxy RENARD watching 'er bathe in zee stream! And so, I have lured you and caught you, my leetle fishy reader! She was only playeeeng wiz a SEAL! And catcheeng 'er DINNER! Zee animal kind! Fooled you! Ahahahaha!"
"And now, mon ami… Now, yeu are caught! Caught I tell yeu! Caught in zee toils of zee prose deathless. Zere eez no escape for yeu now! Even in zee middle of a pile of books on zee top of your shelves de livres, yeu will eventually read me! And all ze while, you weell fear deep in your soul zat zee rest will be even meure fromagey until le fin, when dieu-sur-un-crane weell descend to tie up zee endings loose. Ahahahahaha!!!"
I think this may have affected me at a deeper level than I had previously believed. Which begs the question, can hope be saved?