TORO! :: bull by the horns

an online compendium of culture and commentary

great opening lines: iris’s ocean

Posted by rollinsloane on 8 December 2007

I’m a sucker for a head-turning opening line, and Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea delivers a first-page paragraph that sucks you effortlessly into her tome-sized psuedo-memoir novel.  I’d be an asshole to wax poetic on the very subject she so painterly sets up, but suffice it to say I’ve got my own nostalgic soft spot for the gunmetal grey of a northern sea:

The sea which lies before me as I write glows rather than sparkles in the bland May sunshine.  With the tide turning, it leans quietly against the land, almost unflecked by ripples or by foam.  Near to the horizon it is a luxurious purple, spotted with regular lines of emerald green.  At the horizon it is indigo.  Near to the shore, where my view is framed by rising heaps of humpy yellow rock, there is a band of lighter green, icy and pure, less radiant, opaque however, not transparent.  We are in the north, and the bright sunshine cannot penetrate the sea.  Where the gentle water taps the rocks there is still a surface skin of colour.  The cloudless sky is very pale at the indigo horizon which it lightly pencils in with silver.  Its blue gains towards the zenith and vibrates there.  But the sky looks cold, even the sun looks cold. 

 — Rafe

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One Response to “great opening lines: iris’s ocean”

  1. mykehawkeye said

    How about this one…

    “…With a little luck, you’ll dismiss this labour, react as I hoped, call it needlessly complicated, pointlessly obtuse, prolix-your word-, ridiculously conceived, and you’ll believe all you’ve said, and then you’ll put it aside-though even here, just that one word, “aside”, makes me shudder, for what is ever really just put aside? -and you’ll carry on, eat, drink, be merry and most of all you’ll sleep well.
    Then again there’s a good chance you won’t.
    This much I’m certain of: it doesn’t happen immediately. You’ll finish and that will be that, until a moment will come, maybe in a month, maybe a year, maybe even several years. You’ll be sick or feeling troubled or deeply in love or quietly uncertain or even content for the first time in your life. It wont matter. Out of the blue, beyond any cause you can trace, you’ll suddenly realise things are not how you perceived them to be at all. For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You’ll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you’ll realise it’s always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won’t understand why or how. You’ll have fogotten what granted you this awareness in the first place.
    Old shelters-television, magazines, movies-won’t protect you any more. You might try scribbling in a journal, on a napkin, maybe even in a blog like this. That’s when you’ll discover you no longer trust the very walls you always took for granted. Even the hallways you’ve walked a hundred times will feel longer, much longer, and the shadows, any shadow at all, will suddenly seem deeper, much, much, deeper.
    You might try then, as I did, to find a sky so full of stars it will blind you again. Only no sky can blind you now. Even with all that iridescent magic up there, you eye will no longer linger on the light, it will no longer trace constellations. You’ll care only about the darkness and you’ll watch it for hours, for days, maybe even for years, trying in vain to believe you’re some kind of indispensable universe-appointed sentinel, as if just by looking you could actually keep it all at bay. It will get so bad you’ll be afraid to look away, you’ll be afraid to sleep.
    Then no matter where you are, in a crowded restaurant or on some desolate street or even in the comforts of your own home, you’ll watch yourself dismantle every assurance you ever lived by. You’ll stand aside as a great complexity intrudes, tearing apart, piece by piece, all of your carefully conceived denials, whether deliberate or unconscious. And then for better or worse you’ll turn, unable to resist, though try to resist you still will, fighting with everything you’ve got not to face the thing you most dread, what is now, what will be, what has always come before, the creature you truly are, the creature we all are, buried in the nameless black of a name.
    And then the nightmares will begin…”

    It’s from a book called House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski.

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