Warming up to commentary

Good jazz takes practice.

Writing good commentaries about prose takes some practice as well.

Take the passage below, and looking carefully at it, explore how the writer has created a ‘hook’ in her opening lines. If you post some ideas in the message box, or even an actual commentary, we can get a useful discussion going about an approach to commentary.  I will respond as an examiner to your postings.

Chapter 1

Friday 12 March 2004
— Get the **** off the road!
The gendarme pushed the strap of his AK47 over his shoulder and leaned in the driver’s window.
Marius sighed. He couldn’t see much in the dark street, but he reversed onto the dirt at the side of the road as far as he could, turned off his headlights and waited. Behind him in the darkness other cars were doing the same.
After ten minutes or so a procession swept up the boulevard, heading north from the centre of Lomé.
Marius started the engine, switched on his lights and pulled the car back on to the road. The gendarmes waved him through and he turned left on to the other side of the empty boulevard and headed south towards town.  By the time he got to the Peace roundabout Lomé was back to normal. He glanced up at the huge statue of a white dove that rose from a floodlit pedestal in the centre of the roundabout. Part of the olive branch was still hanging from where the dove’s mouth used to be, but most of its head had been shot off during what locals called the troubles. Ten years on and it still hadn’t been repaired.
A few minutes later Marius made a right turn off the main road. The streets quickly became narrow and dark, the only light coming from the headlights reflecting off the dirty sand. Every so often he passed a brightly lit drinking spot and the smell of charcoal grilled chicken and yams frying in coconut oil drifted into the car, along with the thump of afro-beat. He breathed it all in through the wide-open car windows.
Before long he stopped at the entrance to a narrow lane. A hand made sign was just visible in the headlights: Le Jazz Spot 200 metres. He dimmed his lights and waited while some street food diners pulled stools and tables out of the way to make room for the car. Inching forward, he savoured the smell of grilled fish and gave them a wave of thanks. The lane soon ended at a T-junction with a sprawling sandy road and Marius pulled the car in next to the ones already there.
He walked back to the lane and let himself through a wooden gate in the high plaster wall. For a moment he stood there, waiting for his eyes to adjust. There was a reasonable sort of crowd here already. Most of them were sitting in the garden, where tables and chairs were randomly scattered between low-growing bushes and ground lights. He didn’t recognize anyone but then he couldn’t see very well in the darkness. At the far end of the garden the bar was lit by a string of lights that shimmered off the bottles on the shelf at the back. A couple of people were ordering drinks and others were sitting on the high stools.
His favourite table in front of the band was empty and he headed over to it and sat down. As if that was a signal the speakers snapped into life and the sounds of Michael Brecker drifted through the bar. Marius felt content. He thought — not for the first time — that the soft humid air here in Lomé seemed to hold sounds as it did moisture. He’d never been to any other place where the nights were so soft.

from Twice No One Dies, a work in progress.

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