Contact me at because I'm always up for a natter about anything. Well, mostly.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Classic Openings: Behind The Scenes At The Museum

I first read this book as part of my undergraduate degree. After first obstinately disliking it (I think that was due to someone I disliked exalting it), I came to love it.

Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson

I exist! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the clock on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall. The clock once belonged to my great-grandmother (a woman called Alice) and its tired chime counts me into the world. I'm begun on the first stroke and finished on the last when my father rolls off my mother and is plunged into a dreamless sleep, thanks to the five pints of John Smiths's Best Bitter he has drunk in the Punch Bowl with his friends, Walter and Bernard Belling. At the moment at which I moved from nothingness into being my mother was pretending to be asleep - as she often does at such moments. My father, however, is made of stern stuff and he didn't let that put him off.

I could quote at length from this book but instead I'll just urge you to read it and focus on some of the highlights of the opening.

1. Narrative voice is established. I keep coming back to this point but establishing a solid narrative voice early on is one of the best lifelines you can throw your reader. If they grip onto, and sympathise with, an interesting narrator then they're likely to stick with your story. As it happens, Ruby Lennox is one of the funniest narrators I've ever come into contact with. Truly a fantastic creation from Atkinson.

2. The simplest opening line possible. 'I exist!' It comes down to common-sense, perhaps, but starting a novel with that plain statement sets the novel in a particular context. It indicates to the reader that it's going to be a life-story told from a first-person narrative perspective. Instantly, the reader should be alerted to all the perils that entails - something which will return with a vengeance later. So, aside from instantly establishing character, those two words produce an idea of the style of the coming narrative. More than that, it also places the narrator in the compromising situation of relating things she has no direct knowledge of. Unless, of course, we're to assume that from the moment of conception she has interpretative skills.

3. The illuminating details. A technique Atkinson uses to great effect throughout the novel is the use of specifics to illustrate authenticity. Mentioning the beer Ruby's father drinks and the origins of the clock are amongst the aspects which conspire to give the novel a veneer of realism.

Purchase Behind The Scenes At The Museum here.

No comments: