Hi! My name is Nao and I am a time being. We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. East of the Tolly Club, after Deshapra Sashmal Road splits in two, there is a small mosque. Two twists of smoke at a time of year too warm for cottage fires surprise us at first light. They appear more often now, both of them, and on every visit they seem more impatient with me and the world.
This paragraph is bolted together from the opening sentences of five shortlisted novels for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. I couldn't find a copy of the sixth (The Luminaries) but I think the above proves that there's not much distinction in any of the writing, not much evidence of style, and not much to choose between the respective authors. All five sentences, you'll notice. share the modish present tense. It's hardly worth pointing out that great novels have great opening sentences, something that snags the memory. Can you think of a great novel that doesn't? I shan't type out several dozen examples that come to mind, and simply observe that the sentences above could be rearranged in any order and still make as much sense, and create as little impression. Of course, one wouldn't want to read nothing but great novels - but it strikes me that most modern fiction is homogenised, style-free, relentlessly middlebrow and unambitioious.
Here is the first paragraph, as it appears on her official website. You can judge for yourself:
We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. We are going even though we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even though Bastard is supposed to be watching his little sister Fraction, even though Mother would kill me dead if she found out; we are just going. There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right now I'd rather die for guavas. We didn't eat this morning and my stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out.
Extract © NoViolet Bulawayo
Is anything lost, is anything gained, if the whole thing is put into the past tense?
We were on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me. We were going even though we were not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even though Bastard was supposed to be watching his little sister Fraction, even though Mother would kill me dead if she found out; we were just going. There were guavas to steal in Budapest, and I'd rather die for guavas. We hadn't eaten that morning and my stomach felt like somebody had just taken a shovel and dug everything out.