Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 23, 2009

Opening Lines: Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliot (1963)

Careful He Might Hear You

Careful, He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliot won the Miles Franklin in 1963.   These are the opening lines:

“P.S.,” they said.

And “Vanessa.”

Or sometimes “Ness.”

PS. PS. PS. PS. Ness.  Ness.  Ness.

It sounded through his half sleep like surreptitious mice foraging through tissue paper.  It was as mysterious as the lateness of the hour – after nine o’clock – and only as far away as the kitchen door, ajar so as to hear him if he should call to them on have a nightmare.

He turned in bed, listening to the whispering undertones, as steady and continuous as a tap left running and broken only by a cough or sometimes a chair scraping back on the linoleum; then a dish being taken from a cupboard and now and then a voice would catch on fire and break adrift from the murmuring, but always with the same word, Vanessa, said sharply like hitting a brass gong at dead of night and then someone would say, “Shhh, was that him? Did he call out?” and tiptoeing would startle the old floorboards while a shadow grew larger and larger on his wall; bent to hear if he was stirring and so, annoyed with their secrets, he would feign sleep until whoever it was retreated to the kitchen and the whispering hissed up again like damp green eucalyptus logs burning.

Victor Gollancz, 1963, p3.

Update: 14/7/17 I read this lovely book years ago when it was made into a film, so there is no review of it here on this blog, but you can read Kim’s review of the Text Classics edition at Reading Matters.

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