You’ve Got Five Pages, #BirnamWood by #EleanorCatton, to Tell Me You’re Good. #FirstChapter #BookReview #Podcast

Welp, we had a good run, folks.

As writers, we hear all the time that we’ve got to hook readers in just the first few pages or else. We’ve got to hook agents in the first few pages or else.

Whether you’re looking to get published or just hoping to hook your reader, first impressions are vital. Compelling opening scenes are the key to catching an agent or editor’s attention, and are crucial for keeping your reader engaged.


Well then, let’s study those first few pages in other people’s stories, shall we?

Today I snagged from the New Release shelf:

Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton

For the first time, I have to say that this novel may very well need an engaging prologue to hook readers.

If you do not see the audio player above, you can access the podcast here.

Granted, at the outset, Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood isn’t bad. The prose is dense but vivid, its opening paragraphs dedicated to establishing the setting of a landslide in New Zealand and the aftermath of a small town in isolation. We meet Mira in the third paragraph: she is described to us as well as how she is willfully using an alias and misleading real estate agents of that isolated small town because…we don’t know.

So, we as readers have a compelling reason to read on. We want to know why our main character is not being honest about her identity and motivations.

Yet the more I read the first chapter, the more exposition I got. Paragraph after paragraph details what Mira reads in her research of one person in that town. That’s it. The curiosity I had for Mira’s motivations dwindled with every paragraph of exposition. Perhaps I was spoiled by Janice Hallet’s The Appeal, which also gave us such research, but in its original format of emails and newspaper clippings vs. an omniscient narrator telling us the protagonist is reading these things. The middle man, in a sense, was cut out in The Appeal; plus, reading the original messages from characters gave us a sense of different characters and their voices. Five pages into Birnam Wood, I only know that “Mira read on.” Now, chances are this story is a slow burn with the action coming later on, and that’s fine for those content to wait. For the picky, impatient reader such as myself, however, I think I’ll go back to the New Release Shelf.

No matter what the season brings, keep reading!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!