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How not to start a book

Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina (2012): now that’s how you start a book

The opening sentence to Jolyon Maugham’s new book may just be “the worst of all time”, says Gareth Roberts in The Spectator. “The life that I have is hard,” declares the anti-Brexit KC, “but I got to choose it, and the road that brought me here I did not.” I’m sorry, what? The “but” and the “and” seem to be “in each other’s places”. But while swapping them would certainly help, the line still wouldn’t make any sense. It’s a truly “remarkable string of words”.

Maugham has committed the classic first-time writer’s error of trying to be too clever. The perfection of Anna Karenina’s “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and 1984’s “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” comes from their restraint. They are easy to parse. And, perhaps most important, “they make you want to read the second sentence”.