Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 21, 2010

Opening Lines: The Irishman, by Elizabeth O’Conner, (1960)

Lately I’ve been a bit slack about continuing my series of opening lines from Miles Franklin winners, but hey! now I’m on holidays I have an idle moment here and there…

Elizabeth O’Conner (1913-2000) won the Miles Franklin in 1960 for her novel The Irishman. I don’t have a first edition of the original publication so the cover art you see here is not the original; it’s from the Angus & Robertson Australian Classics series. (I think Perry Middlemiss has an image of the original cover on his old website, see here.)

Here are the opening lines:

The boy walked alone, following the dusty path from the river, his lips drawn into a silent whistle, his bare feet scuffing at the loose soil, sending it in soft brown billows in front of him. He passed the joss-house and looked sideways, barely turning his head. Sometimes, if no one was about, he and his mates would slide stealthily in the door to look at the strange, doll-like gods that sat with fat complacence upon the broad altar. To stretch tentative fingers towards the rich gold leaf. To watch the changing colours in the facets of the long glass beads that swayed and glinted with every breath of air.

But today Michael was aware of eyes that watched him intently, of a smooth oriental face – unsmiling. (p3)

The Irishman  was made into a film in 1978.

Author: Elizabeth O’Conner
Title: The Irishman
Publisher: Angus & Robertson (Australian Classics series), 1977
ISBN: 0207136114
Source: Personal library


  1. A tardy congratulations on the astounding 100,000.

    LH: Comment edited to remove political content re internet issues in the US.


  2. Many congrats on the 100,000 hits. It never ceases to amaze me that people actually read what I write and a study of the stats suggests that more than a few stay for quite a while when they’ve arrived. I wonder how long book blogging like this will continue for in this ever changing world of technology. Do we need to turn our blogs into iPad apps for example?


    • I agree: it feels like an honour when someone subscribes and you know that they haven’t just stumbled onto the blog by accident, they actually are interested enough to subscribe so that they never miss a post.
      I just checked: I myself am subscribed to 26 blogs (including yours of course!) and I mostly read everything that comes along. Of course, it’s just as well that not all of them post every day or I would have to make some hard choices.
      I think there are probably many people who read blogs through RSS email like I do and only visit the blog itself if they want to to comment, so there are almost certainly more visitors than the stats suggest.
      Book blogs have become my main source of information about what’s new and what’s interesting; they’re a source for discussion of all kinds of book-related themes and topics; and they’re a source of friends who matter as much to me as my f2f friends do. I missed reading my blogs when I was overseas; I felt adrift!
      And yet in some quarters, it’s as if we don’t exist. I had occasion to listen to The Book Show on ABC Radio National, talking about trends in book reviewing, and not a word about blogs. Very strange; very out-of-touch.
      Anyway Tom, I’d like to take this opportunity to send you my very best wishes for the festive season: if you’re snowed in, I hope you stay warm and comfy and have plenty of mulled wine and a good book for the duration.


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