V.S. Naipaul hit headlines recently for claiming that all female writers were inferior to him, and “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.” Well, Naipaul, put your money where your mouth is – and, on the offchance that you don’t read my blog, some of you others can have a go.
Here are the openings of ten novels – five of them are by men, five of them are by women. I’m hoping you won’t know what they are… they’ve been picked more or less at random off my shelves.
Pop your guesses in the comments box! There might be a prize… but I’m rather hoping that we can prove Naipaul wrong, and that nobody gets them all right. But bonus points if you can guess the authors… and also let me know which makes you most keen to read the book!
1.) One evening, shortly before Christmas, in the days when our forefathers, being young, possessed the earth, – in brief, in the year 1879, – Mrs. Garden came briskly into the drawing-room from Mr. Garden’s study and said in her crisp, even voice to her six children, “Well, my dears, I have to tell you something. Poor papa has lost his faith again.”
2.) “Oh, dear, oh, dear!” said Henry Clare.
His sister glanced in his direction.
“They are pecking the sick one. They are angry because it is ill.”
“Perhaps it is because they are anxious,” said Megan, looking at the hens in the hope of discerning this feeling.
3.) In order to pay off an old debt that someone else had contracted, Austin King had said yes when he knew that he ought to have said no, and now at five o’clock of a July afternoon he saw the grinning face of trouble everywhere he turned. The house was full of strangers from Mississippi; within an hour the friends and neighbors he had invited to an evening party would begin ringing the doorbell; and his wife (whom he loved) was not speaking to him.
4.) Even in what Julia now thought of as “the old days” – a year ago, and more – Terry had always minded things.
Whenever anything went even a little bit wrong he was almost certain to be fearfully upset. Sometimes he cried, even at twelve years old.
Daddy said Terry was a neurotic little ass.
Mummie said he was highly-strung, and that she’d been the same herself as a child.
5.) Click!… Here it was again! He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again… Click!…
Or would the word ‘snap’ or ‘crack’ describe it better?
6.) “You’d like you tea up here, father?”
There was a moment before the old man replied. Then he turned in his chair by the open window and stared bewilderedly at his daughter. She stood in the low doorway to the small study which overlooked the orchard, a thin, black-haired woman whose ringed hands were red and coarse from years of housework. Fenner’s thoughts had wandered very far and he could not immediately relate the woman to his own life. It seemed to him that she was not his daughter, only one other individual in a haphazard dream world of unrelated human beings.
7.) The sun shone down on a beautiful morning, edging the beech trunks copper and the beech leaves gold. The paddock lay like virgin land, the thin frost lay on it unbroken by human footfall, the grass only darkened here and there by delicate hoofprints where the deer had passed by when the mist still lay sorrelhigh, their sandy bellies brushing drops of dew from thistles, and had passed on and left the paddock still and silent as before in deep dreaming sleep.
8.) Kulay, a fair, skinny, whip-wielding boy with grey, stony eyes, guards the border between a Shillong mansion, once home to a British tea planter, and its drab tenants’ quarters. A forget-me-not hedge separates the drab houses from the magnificent mansion.
He is twelve and is wearing a red polo-neck sweater. He dances in circles like a ribbon of stony sunlight.
9.) The long, long road over the moors and up into the forest – who trod it into being first of all? Man, a human being, the first that came here. There was no path before he came. Afterward, some beast or other, following the faint tracks over marsh and moorland, wearing them deeper; after these again some Lapp gained scent of the path, and took that way from field to field, looking to his reindeer. Thus was made the track through the great Almenning – the common tracts without an owner; no-man’s land.
10.) Sir Henry Roxerby was dead. As far as Brokeyates was concerned, he might well have died years earlier, for the place had begun to go to rack and ruin long before he took to his bed. During those last five years, the main drive had never been used. Sir Henry had no visitors, and the butcher and the baker preferred to reach the house by the stable entrance, near the churchyard. It was thus possible almost to avoid the Park altogether, and none of the village people cared about going further into that than was absolutely necessary. It had a haunted look.