Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 7, 2017

Opening Lines: A Prescribed Life (2016), by Tony Atkinson with Lynn Smailes

I am behindhand with my reviews, most particularly with Alec Patric’s new novel Atlantic Black which I am very excited about, but I was given a copy of this book today by the author Lynn Smailes, and I just had to share the opening lines which I read over a late lunch in a café in Highett.

Chapter One is titled ‘The Importance of Not Being Earnest’ and it begins like this:

As a baby I was put in a wire cage suspended out of a sixth storey window at the back of our house.  Every morning I was coaxed into the cage, and the window was closed.  I stayed there most of the day.

The cage was made from wire, lined with a plywood roof for protection from rain, and had a plywood floor. I had an unhampered view of the back of surrounding houses as I played with my teddy bears, rag books and building blocks.  Toy soldiers were for indoors only, because they escaped through the bars.  I was never bored.  I never felt caged.  Apart from short breaks for feeding and changing my nappies, I would play in there until I was cleaned up by Nanny at teatime and brought down to be shown off to my parents.  (p.1-2)

This excerpt shows you the value of a really striking opening for a book.  I had seen A Prescribed Life before, and because of the cover I had made the mistake of not being interested in it because I thought the book was about the Royals.  That’s possibly not a marketing mistake: there are plenty of people who find the Royals fascinating rather than an object of disinterested disdain.  Whatever about that, these opening lines smashed my reservations and I’ve now read up to the end of Chapter Two…  and on the strength of that can indeed recommend it as very entertaining.

Fiona Capp at the SMH thought so too, and ABC Radio National’s Richard Fidler made it the subject of one of his Conversations. 

Author: Tony Atkinson, with Lynn Smailes
Title: A Prescribed Life
Publisher: Affirm Press, 2016
Review copy courtesy of the author

Available from Fishpond: A Prescribed Life



  1. It’s certainly a very striking opening, but I thought you were in Geelong.


    • Well, I am a silly ass, your comment has made me realise that I hadn’t included the date of the Geelong festival in my post about it.
      So I’ve fixed that.
      No, today I went to a travel writing workshop with Sian Prior and had a lovely time. It was only ten minutes from home in Highett!


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