Day 8: Favourite Prologue.
Along with many others, particularly my Squad Pod Collective ladies and the lovely Danielle and Kelly who devised the challenge for Bookstagram, I have been following the Orentober Challenge. Today’s has been a struggle because picking a favourite prologue from all the books I’ve read is a touch difficult. So today, I’ve turned my usual photograph into a blog post where I’m featuring two of my favourite prologues. I’ve also chosen my prologues from a couple of older titles that some newer readers might not have come across before.
I dreamt vividly the night she died. I’ve had this dream before. In it I am running. Always running. My heart thumps in my ears. My breath comes in short, painful gasps. It is dark and cold and the trees reach out to grab at me, as if they are alive, as if they are trying to capture me with their long, twiggy fingers. Their roots are thick and hidden and I trip repeatedly. I think my feet must hurt. I look down to see that I am wearing only one slipper. When did I lose the other?
Fear has taken hold of me now. A rising panic fills me and I begin to struggle for breath. My chest is tight, like a giant’s hand is squeezing and squeezing, making each gasp impossible. It is getting darker. I must keep running. And then, just when I think it’s all over, there it is, a glorious sunrise appears ahead and forces back the darkness. She is sitting, as she always does, in the pool of light on the forest floor. A little girl in a white nightie, soft, golden curls framing her pale face. I run to her and she lifts her head. When she sees me, she smiles. I wave and she waves back and then I laugh because she is wearing my other slipper. We both have one bare foot and one slipper. How funny! As soon as I laugh, the light begins to fade and so does she. I scream so loudly my lungs feel as if they might split open. I have to reach her before she melts away. But it’s always too late. As I stretch my fingers out to touch her, she vanishes. My hand grasps at nothing, like catching smoke.
Published by Orenda Books 2016.
I love this prologue because it grips me from the first sentence. I know something terrible has happened and this is our narrator’s dream, an otherworldly response from her subconscious. We don’t know how it happened, but we get so much of the narrator’s emotions – the panic, desperation, the sense of a struggle between the evil darkness and the light. The strange detail of the slipper, showing a connection between the narrator and the little girl. Is it a subconscious version of herself that she’s trying to return to? Or is this a real life girl, someone that’s part of her? Her little sister. Maybe her daughter. There’s a hint of Rebecca to the style of this prologue; ‘last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’. I think that connection also sets the reader at the centre of a mysterious story, something the narrator is relating to us after the event. It’s so compelling and odd, that I automatically wanted to devour this story and now that I’ve picked it up to quote here, I want to read it again.That’s what a great prologue does.
‘Certain dank gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted… Within these ivied walls, behind these old green shutters, some further business smoulders, waiting for it’s hour’. Robert Louis Stephenson
‘There’s an unfamiliar smell in the air today. Something like wet pine cones and mulched earth. A hint of old sweat, something sweet, like a lily, and the sticky ripeness that comes with unwashed bodies. The Family like to tease me with my overactive imagination and my exaggerated sense of smell. I like to think I have a mild and unusual form of synaesthesia- certain smells triggering sounds and feeding my mind with wild possibilities. As for the imagination, it might be overactive or it might just be that I’ve attuned my senses to pick up things others choose to ignore. I can hear Cyril, tapping his walking stick on a fence post from the other end of the flower garden, but perhaps it’s the still air that’s making the sound travel. Usually I can hear the birds nesting in the trees down by the entrance to the long drive-way. Blackbirds or ChiffChaffs with their distinctive melodic tweets; and sometimes squirrels as they patter through the undergrowth, in the hedgerows that border the vegetable patches. But today there is silence, apart from Cyril’s stick. And the air is filled with smells, not noise. I breathe it in, waiting, realising I am the only one here, in the grounds, awaiting their arrival. Wondering who they are and why it is they have managed to secure a place here without any of us meeting them before, without them learning about any of our rules and ways.
Again, this is an incredible opening that makes me want to dive right into the first chapter and damn the housework. There are enough clues to put us on edge, even before the Prologue! That cover with the looming building and it’s gothic architecture, eerily reminiscent of the Dakota Building in NYC where John Lennon lived and was murdered. The title leaves a strange feeling, ‘lingering’ usually referring to something that’s stayed past its welcome whether it’s a visitor or an unpleasant smell. If we wanted a guest to remain we tend to say they stayed, not they ‘lingered’. Then those incredible lines from Robert Louis Stevenson, from his essay The Lantern Bearers, are all about setting the scene. A lantern bearer goes before others, shining their light into darkness and seeing what lies ahead. Here the lines quoted do just that – they signal to the reader what lies ahead, something unusual, unsettling, something that has caused our narrator to go out searching. Something has triggered her senses, her unusual senses; she can taste what she sees and pick up clues from what she smells. We get the sense our narrator is in an institution or sanctuary of some kind. Somewhere run by rules and agreement from all parties that live there. Whatever is coming this morning is not agreed. It comes with no warning, were it not for our narrator’s amazing senses. She can smell danger coming. I’m now dying to read on and I hope you are too.
Published by Orenda Books 2018.
Thank you to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for allowing me to use the prologues quoted in this blog.