Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
This is one of my favourite opening passages of a novel, and one of my favourite novels too: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce.
What I feel is so powerful about this opening passage is how Joyce pinpoints the moment of childhood when you start to locate yourself within the world and begin to recognise that you have your very own story: He was baby tuckoo. But he not only begins to identify himself within the narrative, but also to position himself geographically in the narrative, The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt. In short, this is the moment at which the child learns his place in the world.
As the story of a young boy growing into the artist, this Bildungsroman journey of self-identification draws the reader into their own self-identification through the narrative. It heart-breakingly reminds us of our own childhood innocence, naivety and dreams, and moves painfully close to those moments when we lost that innocence.