I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.

The Razor’s Edge, W Somerset Maugham, 1944

Let me confess to you at once that if I had not, on the spur of the moment, picked up my pen and scribbled a note to George Smiley inviting him to address my passing-out class on the closing evening of their entry course – and had Smiley not, against all my expectations, consented – I would not be making so free to you with my heart.

The Secret Pilgrim

John le Carre, 1991


It is a curious thing that at my age – fifty-five last birthday – I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history.

King Solomon’s Mines

H Rider Haggard, 1885


When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbour, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.


Henry David Thoreau, 1854


I’m burned out and starving to death, so I’m just going to lay this upon you and trust that you’re a visionary reader, because the grand design, such as it is, is going to be hard for you to see.

My Traitor’s Heart

Rian Malan, 1990


I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.

The Diary of a Young Girl

Anne Frank, 1942 1


 Fear presides over these memories, a perpetual fear.

  The Plot Against America

  Philip Roth, 2004


Few have been in my secret while I was compiling

these narratives, nor is it probable that they will ever become public during the life of their author.

The Bride of Lammermoor

Walter Scott, 1819                                  



Since I can’t tell this to anybody, I'm writing it, not just to sort it out for myself, but for someone nosy who'll rummage through my papers one day.

Sheepskin 2

Josip Novakovich, 1995



And so here is my confession.


Chuck Palahniuk, 1999



                                         PART ONE


                                         Chapter 1


                                   Call me Ishmael



You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain, 1884


I know a story.         


Kevin Baker, 1999


I don't know if my story is good enough to be a tragedy, although a lot of shitty stuff did happen.

Theft: A Love Story
Peter Carey, 2006


If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.

The Bad Beginning 3

Lemony Snicket, 1999


I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.

Tarzan of the Apes,

Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1914

You'll probably think I'm making a lot of this up just to make me sound better 
than I really am or smarter or even luckier but I'm not.

Rule of the Bone,
Russell Banks, 1993-5


If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to
 know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, 
and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me,
and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, 
if you want to know the truth.

The Catcher in the Rye 
JD Salinger, 1951


An author ought to consider himself, not as a gentleman who gives a private or eleemosynary treat, but rather as one who keeps a public ordinary, at which all persons are welcome for their money.

Tom Jones

Henry Fielding, 1748


Call me Ishmael.

Moby Dick

Herman Melville, 1850


I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.

The Lost Continent

 Bill Bryson, 1989


I will tell you in a few words who I am: lover of the hummingbird that darts to the flower beyond the rotted sill where my feet are propped; lover of bright needlepoint and the bright stitching fingers of humorless old ladies bent to their sweet and infamous designs; lover of parasols made from the same puffy stuff as a young girl's underdrawers; still lover of that small naval boat which somehow survived the distressing years of my life between her decks or in her pilothouse; and also lover of poor dear black Sonny, my mess boy, fellow victim and confidant, and of my wife and child. But most of all, lover of my harmless and sanguine self.

Second Skin

John Hawkes, 1964



I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.


Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002


Something a little strange, that's what you notice, that she's not a woman like all the others.

Kiss of the Spider Woman

Manuel Puig, 1976 4


I, trading places with myself, was in the thick of things, year in and year out.

My Century

Gunter Grass, 1999 5


All this you will come to understand but can never know, and all of it took place long, long ago in a world that has since perished into peat, in a forgotten winter on an island of which few have ever heard.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping

Richard Flanagan, 1997


Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

David Copperfield

Charles Dickens, 1850


Ca a débuté comme ça. Here’s how it started.

Journey to the End of Night, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, 1932 6




                                                    Chapter 2


  There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass



In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry.

The Famished Road

Ben Okri, 1991


One afternoon, three years after the beginning of the new century, red dust which was once rich mountain soil quivers in the air                                   

The Impressionist

Hari Kunzru, 2002


To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck, 1939


The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Arthur C Clarke, 1968


Somewhere in the heart of North America there is a desert where the heat of several suns has fused the particles of sand into a single sheet of glass so dazzling it sends a constant signal to the moon.

Evidence of Things Unseen

Marianne Wiggins, 2003



The Santa Anas blew in hot from the desert, shrivelling the last of the spring grass into whiskers of pale straw.

White Oleander

Janet Fitch, 1999


That year an ill wind blew over the city and threatened to destroy flowerpots, family fortunes, reputations, true love, and several types of virtue.


William Kennedy, 2002


For seven days in the spring of 1882 the man called Shalako heard no sound but the wind…


Louis L'Amour, 1962


It was windy. The pale afternoon sky was shredded with clouds, the road, grown dustier and more uneven in the last hour, was scattered with blown and rustling leaves.

Ross Poldark

Winston Graham, 1945


How could the wind be so strong, so far inland, that cyclists coming into town in the late afternoon looked more like sailors in peril?

The Gate of Angels

Penelope Fitzgerald, 1990

They had names for the wind, for the different gusts and breezes that blew across the island. 

The Jukebox Queen Of Malta

Nicholas Rinaldi, 1999


The wind died down towards evening, then stopped completely.


Henning Mankell, 1998 7


The storm broke over the house.

Washington DC

Gore Vidal, 1967


It rains gently and unceasingly, it rains listlessly but with infinite patience, as it has always rained upon this earth which is the same color as the sky—somewhere between soft green and ashen grey, and the line of the mountain has been blotted out for a long time now.

Mazurka For Two Dead Men

Camilo Jose Cela, 1983 8


After the rain the earth was swollen with moisture and, when the wind scattered the clouds, it languished in the dazzling sunlight and steamed with a dove-grey haze.

Harvest on the Don

Mikhail Sholokhov, 1960 9


There are songs that come free from the blue-eyed grass, from the dust of a thousand country roads.

The Bridges of Madison County

Robert James Waller, 1992

There is a lovely road that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it.

Cry, the Beloved Country

Alan Paton, 1948


On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky.

Main Street

Sinclair Lewis, 1920


Landscape-tones: brown to bronze, steep skyline, low cloud, pearl ground with shadowed oyster and violet reflections.

Balthazar 10

Lawrence Durrell, 1958


All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths.

The Inheritance of Loss

Kiran Desai, 2006



Imagine, then, a flat landscape, dark for the moment, but even so conveying to a girl running in the still deeper shadow cast by the wall of the Bibighar gardens an idea of immensity, of distance, such as years before Miss Crane had been conscious of standing where a lane ended and cultivation began: a different landscape but also in the alluvial plain between the mountains of the north and the plateau of the south.

The Jewel in the Crown 11

Paul Scott, 1966

Two mountain chains traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaus.

Under the Volcano

Malcolm Lowry, 1947


The Jebel es Zubleh is a mountain fifty miles and more in length, and so narrow that its tracery on the map gives it a likeness to a caterpillar crawling from the south to the north.


Lew Wallace, 1880


There is a young legend developing on the west side of the mountains. It will, inevitably, grow with the years. Like all legends, it is composed of falsehood and fact.

The Lilies of the Field

William E Barrett, 1962


Anyone who has never before visited Krishnapur, and who approaches from the east, is likely to think that he has reached the end of his journey a few miles sooner than he expected.

The Siege of Krishnapur

JG Farrel, 1973

The city lies in a plain, ornamented with mountains.


Wyndham Lewis, 1928


Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.

A Passage to India

EM Forster, 1924


In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.

A Farewell to Arms

Ernest Hemingway, 1929


Something terrible happened.

The House Gun

Nadine Gordimer, 1998


On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Thornton Wilder, 1927

It all seemed so real that I could hardly imagine that it had ever occurred before; and yet each episode came, not as a fresh step in the logic of things, but as something expected.

The Jewel of Seven Stars

Bram Stoker, 1903


And that day, the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, and it shone in its usual way so harshly bright, making even the shadows pale, making even the shadows seek shelter; that day the sun was in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky, but Mr. Potter did not note this, so accustomed was he to this, the sun in its usual place, up above and in the middle of the sky; if the sun had not been in its usual place, that would have made a great big change in Mr. Potter's day, it would have meant rain, however briefly such a thing, rain, might fall, but it would have changed Mr. Potter's day, so used was he to the sun in its usual place, way up above and in the middle of the sky. 

Mr Potter

Jamaica Kincaid, 2002


The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.

Samuel Beckett, 1938