Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Answers

I want to go into the books in more detail at some point in the next few days, but I did want to post the answers in case anyone was hanging on.

So here, without further ado...

1. It was a bright clear day in April, and the clocks were striking 13.

As Jim Bliss correctly identified, this was "1984", the classic dystopian novel by George Orwell.

2. What's it going to be then, eh?

Jim also got this, and it's another dystopia. "A clockwork Orange" by Anthony Burgess.

3. Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school.

This was solved by Larry T (presumably Teabag). It's a history of philosophy presented as a novel for young adults. "Sophie's World", by Jostein Gaarder

4. When Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

I did think of blanking out the character and place names, but in the end chose to stick precisely to the first lines. I'd have been amazed if nobody got this, frankly. It is of course, the first part of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, "The Fellowship of the Ring". Jim Bliss found it, but if he hadn't I suspect someone else would have.

5. Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around it's outer walls.

Once again, the clue was in the text for anyone that has read this book. It's another fantasy, but unlike Tolkien's drawing in of many strands of myth, this is a far more inward looking vision from Mervyn Peake. It's called Titus Groan, and it's the first part of the Gormenghast trilogy. Beautiful, poetic and decidedly dark in places.

6. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.

Ah. Another dystopia. This time set in a United States that has undergone a right wing fundamentalist Christian conversion. It's called "The Handmaid's Tale" and it's the best thing I've read by Margaret Attwood. And nobody got it. But that's not surprising.

7. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

Hunter S Thompson's road trip of course. A stone cold classic of late 20th century US fiction, "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas". Once again, Jim was first.

8. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

I really don't know why I included this. I haven't read it. I have no plans to read it. I could have put something like Alfred Bester's "The Demolished Man" or one of Iain M Banks' stories in there, but I saw it on the shelf and thought, "That'll do". Ah well. Larry T's mum recognised it as "Jane Ayre", by Charlotte Bronte.

9. All this happened, more or less.

It's Kurt Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical story of being captured and held in Dresden when it was razed. It's called "Slaughterhouse five", and it's a book that I've read many times. As has Jim Bliss, by the look of things. The book is well known, but making the connection to a first line that contained few clues to the style or content took some doing.

10. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow

Injustice as seen through the eyes of a child. "To Kill a mockingbird" is a book that I first read at school, as did so many other people. It was written by Harper Lee, and the name of the protagonist's brother in the first line may have made this one just a little easier.

11. Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.

Another that nobody got (at least not without looking) and one that I was quite surprised to see go unclaimed. It's quite a memorable line, after all, and it sets the tone for the first part of the book, which is set in a time where humankind was taking it's first tentative steps towards what would one day be us. It's "2001, A Space Oddysey" by Arthur C Clarke.

12. It was a pleasure to burn.

Another thing threading itself through these selections is that although these are novels, the authors are often poets. Vonnegut, Peake, and here, Ray Bradbury. "Fahrenheit 451" is also yet another dystopia. Jim Bliss, again.

13. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, unregarded yellow sun.

As recognisable as a Beatles Lyric, even without mentioning the names of the characters, this is of course, "The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. Jim Bliss got in first.

14. My suffering left me sad and gloomy.

Both this, and the next story were written in the 21st century. Nobody got either of them. This first one is the story of the son of a zoo-keeper, who uses his knowledge of animal behaviour to stay alive when he is forced to share a liferaft with a tiger. Got it now? If you haven't, it's called "The Life of Pi". It's written by Yann Martel, and it contains some truly memorable bits.

15. It was 7 minutes after midnight.

This is "The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-time." by Mark Haddon. As far as I can tell, he gets into the mind and personality of a young man with autism (who witnesses the slaying of the dog on the night alluded to in the title) brilliantly. It's been a few years since I read it, and I may go read it again soon.

16. The house was named "The Cave"

This is Robert Tressell's classic polemic tale of working class life at the beginning of the 20th Century, "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". Although it comes across as naive in this day and age, I still find it's a useful compass and filter. Nobody got it, and I'm a little surprised, because I'm forever banging on about it.

17. I was set down from the carrier's cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.

This is of course, "Cider With Rosie", by Laurie Lee, as my wife correctly asserted. Lee was another poet, and his work is shot through with humanity. Beautiful stuff.

18. The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.

Again, this was a somewhat whimsical selection. "The Wind in the Willows", by Kenneth Graham is on my bookshelf, and I have read it, but it's been a good few years since I did. The anthropomorphic first line made it pretty obvious, and Jim Bliss guessed correctly. Lucky Jim.

19. "They made a silly mistake, though" the Professor of History said, and his smile, as Dixon watched, gradually sank beneath the surface of his features at the memory.

"Lucky Jim" indeed. By Kingsley Amis. A tale of shennanigans in the hallowed halls of somewhere or other. Neither Jim, or anyone else knew it.

20. The Primroses were over.

Again, the book is extremely well known, but you'd struggle to get much from the first line here, and I'm not surprised that nobody got it. It's actually another dystopia of sorts. If I were to ask you to name a dystopian novel involving rabbits, what would you say? It would have to be "Watership Down" by Richard Adams of course.

21. It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.

I suppose if Yossarian's name didn't feature, this would have been more difficult to identify. He made it instantly recognisable to anyone that's read "Catch 22" by Joseph Heller. Maybe I should have put this one in at number 22, just to see if anyone noticed.

22. I am a large man, with big butcher's hands, great oak thighs, rock-jawed head, and massive, thick-lens glasses.

Philosophy, pornography, theology, psychology and anarchy all wrapped neatly into one novel by Luke Rhinehart. "The Dice Man". Jim Bliss caught 22, as well as 21. And 23.

23. The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon.

Boy? Lagoon? It could only be William Golding's "Lord of the Flies".

24. Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down the road and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy called baby tuckoo

I've tried to read this a few times, but always got somewhat stuck somewhere in the middle. James Joyce is not an easy author to read. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" is no exception. Nobody recognised it. Not even Jim Bliss.

25. For a week Mr R Childan had been anxiously watching the mail

Might as well finish with another dystopia! In this case, the Germans and Japanese won the war, and now control the world. Jim Bliss recognised it as "The Man in the High Castle" by Philip K Dick.

So there you have it. Thanks to those that took part. Hope you enjoyed it.

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