Robert Walser

‘The coffee here, thankyou for asking, is the worst fucking coffee I have ever tasted…’. Thus opens The Coffee Story. Perhaps not the most graceful of first sentences, but then The Coffee Story is perhaps not the most graceful of books. But – unless you are Graham Greene (‘Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him’ – Brighton Rock) opening lines are a hell of an ask for any writer – how many books have died in childbirth for lack of an opening…? Anyway, for my money, the best EVER opening line to a novel belongs to The Robber by Robert Walser, who I mentioned in a previous post. The opening – ‘Edith loves him. More on this later’. I have moments when I am convinced that the entire history and subject matter of literature is contained in these two sentences. It does not pay to become too obsessed with Walser, as his combination of dazzling economy and dream-like prose can drive any would-be writer mad with jealousy. Not though, perhaps as mad as Walser himself, who ended up in an asylum, where he added a second wonderful gnomic utterance to this first. On being asked by Carl Seelig whether he was writing in the asylum he answered ‘I am not here to write. I am here to be mad!’