The first page matters

We are often told this and it is surely true. I started reading a new book a few weeks ago and the first page nearly put me off. The scene was London, not now but in the past as portrayed in many a Sherlock Holmes film – mist swirling everywhere, people emerging out of it and disappearing into it. But a book is not a film, we cannot see the mist, so we have to be told it is misty. In this case, to accomplish this, the author uses the word ‘mist’ four times in the relatively short first paragraph and, just in case we missed it, once more in the second. A word can be repeated deliberately, for rhetorical effect, but this was not the impression I had here.

Then we have ‘Darkness … pooling’ and, a few lines later, ‘blood pooling’. Quite a lot of pooling going on.

And all this on an opening page heavy with adjectives. I could undertake a statistical analysis, but life is too short.

In fact the book is good. The characters are interesting and the narrative gripping. But writing style matters too. However, style is difficult to pin down: what appeals to some may not to others.  So some may read this opening page and love it.

But I can say that this particular  opening page does not give an accurate impression of what is to come. The repetition drops off, the adjective count (with a few exceptions) drops off too, and dialogue makes a welcome entrance. As does the author’s wry take on the events he is narrating.

So anyone put off by the opening of this book would be missing out on a good read. Which would be a pity. Prospective buyers can check out the first few pages of most books online: if they are put off they will not buy. Is that what authors want? Probably not.