“What do you mean?” Hotpot stopped chewing for a moment to consider what he meant but he couldn’t remember.
“She’s the one who knows” said Hotpot staring out of the field shelter at the gate where a middle-aged woman was fiddling with the latch. “And the others, the one she calls William and those others that feed us sometimes.” The Grey Horse pondered this for a little while, impressed with Hotpot’s ovine cleverness.
“Will she tell us what happened?” but Hotpot had dozed off and couldn’t really remember how it had all begun. The Grey Horse swapped his resting hind foot and gave his head a little shake. It didn’t matter.
But there was a day he remembered, a day when he had arrived here hobbling with pain and very lonely. And then he remembered the day that Hotpot arrived and all the other wonderful days they had shared.
1. The Grey Horse
Straightening up with a long sigh, the vet patted the dapple grey horse’s neck and turned to her. “That knee’s no reason at all to put this horse down. And he’s a good solid sort. Aren’t you fella?” with another pat that was almost affectionate. “The thing is” he said, “trainers are under such pressure and this lad’s cost his owners more than a fair share, so you can see their point really. No good having a racehorse that can’t race, no matter how well bred he is.” He continued stroking the now dozing horse’s long soft nose. “Give it rest, six months or so, and you should see an improvement. He’s only four remember, so time’s on his side. Why not give it a try and see how it goes?”
“But what about the feet?” she said her hand patting too quick and anxious the long soft nose. The horse’s feet were an agony, blinding burning pain matched only by the dreadful pain of his damaged knee. His mind was turning, turning, turning. As she patted his nose the horse gave a start and backed away from the nervous fidgeting. The very morning she’d unloaded this equine wreck from the lorry he had managed to get both front feet stuck in the sheep netting running along the fence. He had torn off the shoes and shredded his heels in his frantic efforts to get free so that he could continue hobbling about the field to scream his lonely distress. Bert sighed again: “the farrier’s done a great job cleaning them up and they should heal within a few days. The bigger problem is keeping this horse calm in the box. The pacing won’t do him any real harm but he’s very distressed”.Lucy removed the headcollar and together they turned to close the stable door. The horse, wild eyed and anxious once more as he watched them move away, resumed his awkward uneven pacing around the box. “It’s a good idea, getting a companion, a pony or a sheep or something. He’s come out of a yard with thirty odd horses, with lots going on and plenty of companions. It’s bound to take time to adjust.” She just stared. Blank. Collapsed. Baffled.
Bert was changing out of his overalls, wiping his hands, filling in paperwork as Lucy stood staring at the miserable beast marching his pathetic stagger around and around the stable. What had she done, how could she ever have thought that this would work? How could this beautiful creature possibly be better off here, away from the world he had known. And how could she possibly juggle her life to fit him into it. The vet slammed the car boot shut and gave another sigh. “Look” he said, “it’s up to you to decide if you want to do this or not but at least you’ll be giving him a chance. It’s this or …” She stared back and looked over at the horse, who was watching the woods across the field for some sign of rescue. None was coming, so he resumed his previous work. “You’re right of course” she said bleakly.
As the vet pulled away Lucy felt slightly more hopeful: there was something that she could do to help calm the new horse down. Something positive, yes, but not something she could do now alone. Better to go and get Daisy from school and discuss it with her. Together they would work out what to do for the best for the horse. Perhaps he might calm down and things would get a bit better, and she would be able to work out what should happen next. On the way home from school her daughter, marginally less sulky than usual for a Friday afternoon said: “but what are you going to call him?” “His name is Jevington Grey, but that’s too long” her mother replied “in the racing yard they just called him the Grey Horse, but that isn’t really a name. And anyway we don’t know if a companion will help. We think he’s completely frantic at being alone, but maybe he’s just frantic? That knee might not come right. We don’t know if a pony or a sheep will help, and I am really not sure that I can juggle everything on my own.” Her daughter rolled her eyes waiting for the drama to recede a little, saying “of course we can make it work. I’m here at the weekends and holidays to help. The lads on the farm will help when you’re travelling. The days are getting longer. It will work if you want it to.” This last said with a sudden softness, with such niaive trust and sincerity, that she could hardly ignore it. So she said “let’s wait until the six months is up before we worry about giving him a name. Right now he’s just the Grey Horse and he’s got to stand in the stable for a week and he needs a friend”.
That evening following a quick conversation with the racing yard, things were looking a little brighter. There was no spare pony, but there was the last of the trainer’s aging spring lambs that might be suitable. Spring lambs from five years ago, but perhaps an aging wether would be the solution to the problem.
Looked up at the squeak. The door opened: grey eyes brimming soft as she said: “Have you got everything then?” Stuffing socks in corners, books between the layers, a muddle of colours in the frame of bluegrey and we two looked together at the open jaws waiting gently to close and shut the things away. “I think that’s it now.” Smiling, “I’m sure I must have forgotten something though.” Eighteen, the smile struggling behind an anxious expression. They squashed shut the case and sat there looking again, the mother child line still not broken, there in the bedroom with the years and their earmarks. Pictures at school, a hockey stick, books scribbled on, titles changed, in precious moments of defiance. “David Copperfield” reduced to “Avid D. Crippletoed”, “Far from the Madding Crowd” to “Near to the Damning Droves”. Pictures, posters, flowers pressed to the walls; bedroom her bedroom but those things all pressed, the pictures, the posters, the books they kept a secret. They all whispered together, they all hummed in the night as she lay there sighing dreaming at the ceiling where danced the magic, tripped light-limbed from corner to picture rail and up around the light hung central dreamy that series, whispering across the space of skylike magic vaulting this, her young girl’s world. “Horses” whispered they. All the books, the pictures, posters, shoes, coats, hairbrushes, mirrors, radiators, windows, doorknobs, everything whispered “horses”.
So there they were. “Here we are”, she sniffing through soggy tissue smiled motherly charm once more. “Are you sure, are you quite, quite ….” and then the quick staccato “I am and I know what I want to do, please don’t worry.” And all those times run one behind the other, all the words the cries the “if yous …” the alls and nothings lined up row upon row pushing gently all together behind their eyes the tears to roll.
They drove down with the suitcases from Wimbledon to Dorking with a halfway stop for lunch together the final family time all together, nearly all under one roof. There in the White Horse. They smiled at the name the mother father sister and even the very little sister and her. She was the oldest. When once we were five now are we four and it doesn’t fit. They all asked again. “They have sixteen horses in training and five brood mares and two yearling colts.” All excited as she chewed her potatoes and cabbage, edge of chair fidgeting elbows, jerking, scraping, pushing the mouthfuls ready on the fork. She spoke of the coming season over hurdles and fences, the hopes the trainer had for her. She spoke of the rightness of her choice while they watched on in sad silence. They dropped her off at the tied cottage that was to be her new home, one mile from the stables. They went home straight after tea while she, waving on the step as the car rolled away, wondered at the view from her new world.
The first day’s golden warm dawn broke with new noises, dream noises, larks’ and sparrows’ noises through an open window, looking over the little village green and the summer trees. A morning with horses, and they all so friendly helper her along, showed her the hay barn, the feed bins, the paddocks and the rolling hills where the gallops ran.
Trit trot out of the yard the first string, she on black shiney colt, knees up high, feet in the short little stirrups. The dark gleaming mane bouncing with the rhythm, the champing noise of horse with bit to chew and the beauty of those glossy hides the brave brown eyes the cadence and the balance of their strides. As they rode through the morning air, dappled sunlight patterned their way. The clip clop jig jog they laughed at the dancing horses breaking beat to hop and sideways sail, a half canter rocking horse stride; they chattered and joked, they went along. As the gallops neared they all grew quieter. The five or so horses now settled to a steady walking stride, controlled, hesitant. The gallops sandy and long, running through the Ministry’s pine trees, were firebreakers. The hooves muffled in the sand and the early morning silence watching, waiting. As he turned, the trainer up front lit his cigarette and seemed to say “alright then”. And suddenly speed. They five galloped all in his wake, the horses straining hard against the already aching arms, legs and backs. The breathing hard pounding the air, the hooves the ground in solid two two time and rhyme they banged the soundless air the walls around a windfilled vacuum, resounding through the trees the noise of it. She there too arms stretched the horse moving with her strong into the bridle so full and so fast. And gradually they slowed gently down, to a long and lazy canter and steadily they rolled along and soon they found their walking clef again. The voices came back one by one and the cigarettes lit one by one and they chattered and laughed, loosened the girths and patted the steaming shoulders. Let down those too high stirrups, let down their tired legs and stiffening knees and leaned to hug those warm and sweating necks, to hear the snuffles and the snorts and the deepening breaths of those their noble mounts.
Every morning they rode, through and around the village. Every morning she had breakfast with the lads and the trainer. He told her of the races she might ride in. Told her what she did wrong why she didn’t need a whip, why she did, why to let them run on was wrong and cruel, why the racaehorses raced and where the magic lie. Her evenings faded into her nights and she slept soundly watching the ceiling again and hearing the shadowy voices again and every day through the brilliantly setting summer she was happy with her choice and happy that she had shown them that their fears were unfounded, for she was happy.
As the weeks passed the golden yellows shifted to ambers reds and gradual browns. They rode through the misty autumn rain, they watched her graceful dance and the colours as they went from greengolds to greybrowns in a cloudy drizzle that hung everywhere. As winter drew on the chortly summer tones slowly faded and the winter’s sense, cold and without sympathy, became theirs. There were accidents on the ice, people hurting themselves, horses being hurt. And still they rode, still they worried for the next lot, and the horse box that arrived at two, and who would bring the brood mares in. There were weekends at home that seemed so tragically short. Thirteen days at work and then a precious thirtysix hours respite. Half a day spent in travelling on a rumbly old bus from the village to the town, from town to London and from London to Wimbledon. And half a day back again and half a day in the middle to share the thirteen with her family. “I know it’s what I want.” “But are you really sure?” The conversation had taken place so many times, they had thrown it back and forth before but now she had hooks on which to hang their questions and the books and the pictures and posters were somehow silent. “Mum …..do you think I can get out of it?” “With the trainer I mean. Perhaps if I wasn’t so far away from home?” her mother could only sigh and wonder why her daughter only looked at things instead of around them. “You wanted this so badly, you had made up your mind so definitely, what are you really asking me?” The two looked across their stretched out line swinging with the unseen weights and measures. She went back down that evening and tried to think it out.
They said so many times she shouldn’t, they said so many times forget it until you have the choice to choose the this over the that, they said. Riding alone the next time, a horse whose fragile frame wanted to wander through the winter woods with her in a secret, muted cloud. They two paced along. Steamy breaths, the echo of the wood pigeons, the lonely leafless branches still in the soundless fog. Her thoughts trod the beat of the muffled pacing hooves. Perhaps there was no reason for doubt, perhaps if she retook the A levels. Perhaps if she studied in her spare time, to fulfill that ideal they were so anxious about. With a drifting cloud they climbed the hill behind the stables and looked down across the valley and the clustered farm below, pondering. They didn’t ever say what they wanted but they wanted her to be “something”. They said “don’t waste your mind, you are gifted don’t belittle that gift” but they didn’t count this horse thing as that. And she wondered as she wandered down the winter slope.
After all they didn’t really understand it, they couldn’t they were frightened of horses and they always worried so much, always wanting her to take the safest route, they were always so careful. Yet as she wondered, at the back of all the wondering there nestled a little voice that didn’t whisper but that somehow was inaudible. Then they clip-clopped into the yard and there was no chance of even noticing that little sound, and still less of actually listening to it. Jumped down and being busy again, and not asking any more until, then watching the swish of her favourite tail that voice loud and clear did say “university” very, very loud and behind its echo all the voices and the noises and the arguments, and there with the smell of the horses and the miserable, damp morning rising around her, she started to cry very softly and quietly and all to herself.
She ’phoned her parents that night and they talked all three on the telephone and she tried to apologise for her years of temper and her anger and her defiance and asked them why this horse thing wasn’t really working out, and they said in return, we’ll talk about it at the weekend. So on Sunday afternoon the family tried to talk things out again as they had before but this time there seemed more sense. She accepted it, her sadness and her loneliness, she accepted that they were probably right when they told her she’d get tired, that the challenge would soon wear thin, and she accepted when they said “how about finishing the apprenticeship and then going to college the following year or so? Perhaps the trainer will let you off with a two year apprenticeship.” There, all at the table they were as one unit again and the leaded widow panes of the dining room dappled the table cloth and patterned their faces making mockery of solid reality. Their separation and the anger and arguments faded, and the bitterness dissolved. Grey eyes brimming soft as she said: “We do love you Louise; you do know that, don’t you?”
On Monday morning the air was cold and crisp, the sky an icy blue and as the sun climbed higher the day sparkled and glittered as the frost melted and the sunlight refracted through the thousands of water droplets. Louise rode out the first lot up front with the trainer and explained her predicament. She was lucky, the man was fond of her and although he was keen for her to ride for him, he accepted her point of view. Compromise smiled through his old blue eyes. That evening they two went over their agreement and made the tentative changes to her contract that the lawyer would have to make official. Suddenly Louise had her ceiling full when she slept, and the whispers came back and the world of horses was once again on its axis. She daydreamed of college now much as she had day dreamed of racing while still at school. Now there was purpose she told herself and the lads at the barn all thought her very funny. When she slipped on the ice it didn’t matter, when the two year old filly they were backing reared over on her it didn’t matter. Nor when her toes got frostbitten did it matter, for things were in perspective, out of a cloud and into clear new dayness. She wasn’t trapped with her ideal, they two walked side by side. So safe she was there with her plan on her arm, so safe with the documents all corrected and so safe as she set off with the string with silly chatter about maybe being a vet or maybe a stud manager; so silly as they jig jogged along.
She sat up there with a snugly hat and freezing toes, jogging along so dozey daydreaming. Silly girl on the gallop with a nine year old mare, a chaser pulling hard, pulling stronger and she looking through the flying black strands ofthe steeplechaser’s mane could see something little and blue away up ahead, and as she steadied as steady as she could, they two pounding on brought the focus sharper and the little shape in his blue anorak was picking something up and couldn’t see or hear them as his little face searched the sand for something he had dropped. As Louise drew closer and closer, every stride stretching further, pulling harder she saw him and tried to steer her mare to one side and it seemed he moved and then with no other choice she stood up high and screamed out “David! Looki out!” and her voice hit hard the morning air and he looked up and moved slowly away as she thundered past. Now at full speed they were moving into the final two furlongs of the three mile gallop, and that mare whose distance was four miles had heard the voice, felt the shift of weight and was pounding. Her breathing sounding hard, her rhythm stronger with every stride, and with no chance of ever slowing down they came off the gallop onto the tarmac road that led back to the stables. It was only a stretch of a couple of hundred yards or so through the winter trees, and it got very steep as they came to the home paddock. The steep hill was a useful safety measure and she tried just to keep the mare as balanced as possible on the slippery road. As they came through the trees she could see the home paddock and its steep incline and she saw the gate, closed. And saw again that little blue doll as he must have looked struggling to shut it just like his dad told him he should shut the gates and mind no cows or horses got out. As they approached the gate the mare steadied and they two grew closer together to take the jump. Five solid bars and they going so fast and coming in so close to take off, and they nearly cleared it and would’ve landed safe and sound if it had stood firm. Those little eight year old fingers couldn’t do the bolt, his little arms couldn’t lift the heavy gate to loop the extra safety catch. And as they perched there ridiculous and so still, she saw for a split second black strands silouetted againast a bright blue line.
As they filtered back the shattered fragments put together a picture that she couldn’t recognise, and she didn’t know where she was, who was telling her not to move and why it was so cold. The mare was fine they said, sore heels and a bit bruised but fine. And they kept on saying don’t worry, these people, this funny old man and the two young ones and they called her Louise and asked her what her dad’s office phone number was, and have you had a tetanus injection, and just try to relax. She silent looking up and there was nothing there to tell her what had happened.
Two months had lapsed and she was still prone. With pieces in her spine crushed, and weekly visits to the doctors and X-rays and all the dreams and hopes collapsed around her like poleless tents. Louise was reading and listening to the radio, the Cheltenham Gold Cup was being run and in the field was a nine year old mare pulling hard they said, showing promise as they cleared the second to last. Still daydreaming and watching the ceiling and anxious when she could go back to it all. They had said six months and she was doing very well, and the damage was gradually mending and she would soon be strong again. As she listened to the closing stages and looked around her at the posters and pictures and fading flowers pressed to the wall she started to cry again, very softly again and quietly all to herself.
Her mother brought her tea the next morning hurrying up the stairs calling as she came to her daughter “Louise wake up, wake up. there’s a letter here from London University. Open it quick.” Louise sighed awake to see her mother’s outstretched hand and a shiney new day pusing its way in through the curtains.
Getting through the publishing process, or not? It’s taken weeks to get over the trauma of the structural edit of the Draftsman. And in between then and now, life and the outside world have weaseled their ways into brain and heart to make it even harder to think fiction.
This might be a natural part of the process. You think about characters, you eventually consider what they do and don’t do and then you get the whole thing down on the page and suddenly without any warning it’s all gone, forgotten about. Then people ask you about the story, the characters and what they do, and what happens in the end. It’s not polite to offer the first response that comes to mind, but it is polite to smile and say “thanks for asking” and then to change the subject. Sometimes this works. If it doesn’t you can tell the truth. “It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten what it’s about”. It’s only a little lie.
So fab, you send in your structural edit. And fab you wait, and you wait some more and some more and eventually you forget about it again. Then you see a diary note: “deadline for structural edit to Unbound” oh bugger. Then hang on, not oh bugger at all you say to yourself. Then slightly louder you say to the cuckoo clock I sent that in, and I’ve heard not a whisper. Did they even get it? (who knows) Should I nag? (probably not) Can I resist the urge to ask? No I cannot. And yes, they did get it. Pull some more teeth with another question: what happens next?
After the structural edit?
Fortunately this is an easy question to answer, so the answer comes within weeks. What happens next is that the structural edit is reviewed and the editor puts together another set of queries and questions. These are so that the author can clarify why Mrs Himplestanger says she hates cheese in chapter two, but tucks into a cheese fondue in chapter nine. Oops. These are the sorts of things that authors really should notice, but often don’t. And why is that a surprise? Who knows about cheese or not when you’re forty thousand words away?
And while the structural editor is once more doing their wonderful thing, and you’re dreading having to read the bloody book yet again, you have other tasks to fulfil. The publisher wants a Style Sheet completed. This has nothing to do with formatting or paragraph properties but everything to do with “character lists and timelines”.
Character lists and timelines
I am not entirely confident that I can pull this together for the Draftsman, but I am trying. The trouble is that every time I take a stab at character lists and timelines, something terribly important needs doing and gets in the way. I have to straighten my speaker wires, polish my collection of novelty USB sticks and take an urgent inventory of the household rice collection (four varieties, all in good supply and all very surprisingly in date). Once the excitement of such activities wears off the character lists and timelines spreadsheet beckons once again. But then faced with a menacing array of empty Excel spreadsheet cells, arranging pens and pencils in size order on a far corner of the desk is suddenly an absolute must to do. And this vital task can take so long because the naughty pencils keep rolling off the desk. Then there’s the fringes on the rug to comb out, and the dead flies to line up and measure, and those spiders won’t spin their webs without a song or two to help them along. And so it goes. Thinking about it, there will be a couple of weeks before the structural edit second edition comes back with some important changes. Perhaps I’ll wait for that instead. Just in case.
It’s only a pony but only a pony is so much more. When the vet said “she can’t go on like this” it was bad enough. When he ran through the vital signs, “heart’s racing, breathing 47 breaths a minute, and should be 22”. When he sighed a heavy sigh and gave us that long look. Little Dolly staring blank at the soft autumn air. The Greyhorse standing off pulling at his hay, the sudden, sharp nod every minute or so, squirrels bold bouncing across the ground to hide acorns almost as big as their heads. The air was so still in that moment, and there was no longer the crackle and wheeze of Dolly’s laboured breath. Her lungs had so much scar tissue that there was no movement sufficient for a crackle or a wheeze. She stood with her hind legs stretched behind her ignoring the remains of her lunch. We’d been desperately tempting her with all sorts of yummy food, every hour something else, every morning looking in hope to see if she’d finished her last night’s food. But she didn’t and now it was time.
It’s only a pony, but only a pony is so much more. Two weeks before we had heard awful news of the death of an old friend. A friend whose death was expected, though not so soon. It was too soon, always too soon for those we love. And standing there in the golden light Dolly was waiting. Standing there in the golden light there was a door, a passage slowly widening, and slowly filling with immense, leaden sorrow. Sorrow for those left behind, for those whose strength is falling away, for those whose life is soon ending. And through it Dolly passed, gently, easily and soon lay still, still with us but gone. All that we have lost remains somewhere, somehow. Reach out and it reaches back. Don’t stop.
It’s only a pony, but only a pony is so much more. We can’t go to the funeral because there are limits on gatherings, so disease is our shepherd.
It’s only a pony, but only a pony is so much more. We can’t visit the frail because we might kill them. They might kill us, so disease is our shepherd.
It’s only a pony, but only a pony is so much more. The shepherd is waiting. Good bye Dolly.
I don’t generally read a science fiction, so reviewing XX in the context of its genre is impossible for me: I can’t point out clever references or offer witty insights. I wasn’t much looking forward to reading XX because tackling a 977 page first novel isn’t something to undertake lightly, sci fi or not.
Trepidations aside I did really enjoy this book. It helps that technology plays a big part and although there were a few holes, for the most part the technical stuff’s convincing. More significantly this book exploits everything it’s possible to do with digital technology for page layout, composition and printing. Hughes uses typography and exploits the precision of inkjet digital printing to convey the characters’ experiences, often in ways not possible in the pre-digital imaging age.
The eponymous XX is one of three Digital Memetic Entities, DMEns created online but connected to a wider world through their digital iterations in digital channels. XX’s colleagues are Girl 21 and the 19th Count, both of whom play bigger parts in the story than XX. The DMEns are characters borne of ideas, ideas that drove the last three centuries and they have agency. The DMEns are made tangible by the genius of a computer geek working on AI applications for digital games. Jack and his colleagues are amongst a handful of people able to understand an obscure transmission coming from outer space. The Signal, picked up as sound waves, is actually a huge binary entity. Its digitally defined parameters are referred to as the Grid, wherein numerous lost civilisations and creatures are embedded and transported. The Signal’s connection to a curious crash landing on the dark side of the moon gradually becomes apparent and through the subsequent investigation, we meet Dana an astronaut who becomes intimately entwined with the Grid, its Shepherds and the DMEns. That much I got. I think.
It’s tempting when hefting XX onto your well-muscled lap or sturdy table to assume that the book is overwritten, but this isn’t the case. The writing is sharp, tight, pacy even, but the narrative is almost overwhelmed with creative possibly fictitious support material. Unexpectedly the diversity and volume of evidence for the main premise (still trying to work that one out) actually does help drive the narrative.
The lists, internet references et al provide necessary context for some of the themes addressed. These are many and the most important one isn’t obvious until the very end of the book. Symbols are stories. Words, letters, graphics and glyphs of all kinds, binary and digital, are messengers, possibly sentient beings. Symbols and digital algorithms shape perceptions, facts, ideas, truth or lies, reality. Broadcast datastream signals can provide common voice, or have unique and granular meanings. Examples used in XX range from BBC News websites and newspaper clippings through to Wikipedia entries and extracts from classified meeting transcripts. Unfortunately all voices in the various background stuff sound the same, like Jack, so it’s hard to have the patience to read these sections. Maybe this is ok in a sci-fi novel?
Excess detail such as the frame by frame analysis of the Daedelus footage images, and numerous coding examples are definitely annoying to read. But they demonstrate that meaning depends on how a description, or symbol, is interpreted and the response to that interpretation, whatever the medium. Meaning is ascribed by the receiver of the data. Ideas are not fixed or immutable.
So we understand that this story is well written and pacy, but is it just too much? Possibly, except as the book proceeds and the end is in sight, the excess background experiences take on more meaning and relevance. The long descriptions can be a drag and undermine the slow moving drama, but at around the last third of the book the pace picks up. What is basically a pedestrian story gussied up in philosophical posturing, then becomes exciting and compelling.
Certainly there are too many digressive rambles and rants to hold many readers’ attention. But XX is part sci-fi, part graphic story and part philosophical treatise. Through the demonstration of the value of recorded history, from pictograms and letters through to data archives, we appreciate the evolution of ideas, their persistence and power. We are reminded that to counter a bad idea you need to have a better one. The rendition of ideas in words, page design, images and type pushes typographic composition beyond anything seen in a first novel, or indeed any other. XX exploits digital prepress and production technologies to amplify the expression of page design and composition.
Things get much more exciting as XX approaches its conclusion, despite the exhaustion of the preceding breezeblock of pages. The author may be bludgeoning reader with content to give the experience of what the universe is undergoing. The heavy use of typography and layout add another dimension to our ideas of what a novel should look like. It’s wonderful to see technology add such a fabulous new creative dimension to our concept of the book. XX is an extraordinary achievement and quite unprecedented.
Getting to be a bit of a habit this book reviewing lark. I read this book some months ago, but it’s stayed with me longer that one might expect. This review is an exegesis intended to get the story and its images out of my head.
It’s rare that a novel, especially a first novel, transports the reader so completely and so persistently into another space. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is set in a large but unspecified Indian city. Young children have started to disappear from a local basti, a slum. The eponymous Djinn Patrol is a small group of children led by nine year old Jai, a little boy who along with his friends lives in the basti. Obsessed with television cop programmes and keen to become a detective, Jai decides to investigate. He co-opts his friend Pari who is much brighter and much more diligent than Jai. Faiz has a job as well as going to school and is convinced that Djinns are to blame for the disappearances.
Jai’s story, and that of his world, is woven into the story of the team’s efforts to track down the killer. They look for clues, interview witnesses and catalogue their evidence. They don’t get very far but in their many journeys, including to the city centre on the purple train line, we are immersed in the world they inhabit. We learn bits of Hindi on the way, like basti and daru, which is some sort of booze. We also learn about Indian food, and about managing day to day living in extreme poverty. Jai, his family and those of his friends and neighbour live the same routines as everyone else: food, transportation, home, family. But they do it without much in the way of cash or mod cons. And they are at the sharp end of most peoples’ predjudices including those of their neighbours.
Through her characters, the author deftly reminds us of some basic truths people in general and about modern India in particular. At his job as a tea-shop boy, one Sunday Jai observes “If Pari were to see me now, she would say this is why India will never be world class like America or England. In those countries, it’s illegal to make children work.” There are many such uncomfortable reminders in this book.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line offers an original perspective on modern India, that of a lowcaste little boy, aspirational and ambitious but easily distracted. He and his friends and family take in stride the country’s casual racism and class divisions, evident pretty much everywhere. We see the aloof disregard the wealthy “hifi” people have for the poor people who serve them. We see the callousness and priviledge, and the complete lack of respect spoilt wealthy people can have for others beyond their social class, beneath their caste. We come to understand that these hifi types simply don’t see them as people. One would like to think the hifi types know better, because they should, but they mostly don’t. Their unfeeling disregard is shocking, anachronistic in people who pride themselves on the advances India has made over the last 70 years. That a mother daren’t ask for time off to searching for her missing child, because she could lose her job is as sobering as it is distressing.
The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, between the hifis behind their high walls and the slum-dwellers with no running water and shared bathhouses is an ugly reminder of how easy it is for people to be blind to the world around them, to simply not notice. That applies not just to broken down buildings and running drains in Jai’s basti, but also to domestic violence, child abuse and kidnapping and corruption, especially in the police and local government. Too easily it can all become quotidien, and those priviledged enough to push for change, immune so they do nothing.
Anappara’s array of characters, savoury and not so savoury, are presented with sympathy and sensitivity. Main characters have back stories to help us understand how they are shaped, showing their multiple sides. Truly evil characters have no shape other than evilness. Anappara’s heroes and antiheroes are vulnerable and inconsistent, and as we learn to get to know them we are encouraged to want to know them more, even the unpleasant ones. Many are uncertain and changeable. Even Jai struggles with self-doubt, at one point telling Pari “we can’t be detectives anymore. What can we track? We done even know the Muslim children’s names”. Divisions between Hindus and Muslims in modern India clearly run deep, even amongst children.
Like India this story is one of contrasts, from the blend of kindness and cruelty of Mental towards his gang of child thieves, through to Jai’s assessment late in the book that “our basti has become famous and the opposite of famous”. The author keeps her various narrators’ voices clearly distinct, from Jai whose nine year old perspective remains that of a child throughout, to the young schoolboy thug, Quarter. He is one of Jai’s suspects but is really not so different from the younger boys he terrorises. But Quarter’s advantages are enough to give him power over other children, as Jai explains: “His father is the pradhan [leader] of our basti and a member of the Hindu Samaj, a shouty party that hates Muslims. We hardly ever see the pradhan anymore because he has bought a hifi flat and only meets hifi people.”
Jai makes many such observations throughout this book and the reader is right there with him. We share Jai’s life and his world: “For safekeeping his father wrapped the ironed clothes in clean but worn bedsheets.” Jai’s father is a press-wallah, anxious that changing times in his neighbourhood will soon make him redundant.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is witty, sensitively observed, a story of hideous crimes and of the ordinariness of innocence. Jai and his friends are aware of their world and its limitations but they are unconcerned. Their world is school, avoiding getting into trouble, exploring and having adventures. In this they are the same as children everywhere. Their difference is that they live in a world where child abduction and kidnapping, murder and police corruption are too readily ignored. But such darkness does not have to be ignored and that it is, should be India’s shame.
I have heard that when starting out as a novelist, getting your manuscript finished is the easy bit. I always thought that a little bit silly, because you’ve sweat blood over the thing, spent months or even years on it. But I’m beginning to see there is some sense to this. For a start there’s all the additional prep, the formating and understanding the process. Then there’s the cover design and blurb to sort, both of which are easy and exciting. But then comes the structural edit. This is not nearly so easy or as exciting, and sweating blood plays no part.
A structural edit has to ensure that the plot makes sense, so if it doesn’t you’re faced with some heavy duty rewrites and rearranging. The structural edit also checks that the characters in the novel are believable and consistent, and that you haven’t overloaded them with tropes that undermine or distract the reader. As important is a check on the consistency of voice and point of view, of tense and credibility in terms of dialogue. These are all things you think you’ve addressed during your umpteenth rewrite, prior to submitting the manuscript to the publisher. But no matter how thoroughly you think you have gone through your work, you’re bound to have missed stuff. This is why editors are so vital and so lauded by their authors. They can literally help to spin gold from dross.
I’m now working on implementing the structural edit of the Draftsman, wrestling with the dross and trying to find the gold. In the process I’m learning a lot about writing. I’m struggling to resolve all the queries and suggestions to make the Draftsman better. Struggling, but at it.
Helen Francis did the first big edit of the Draftsman for Unbound, the publisher. She has given me a mix of mild critique and several excellent suggestions to improve the narrative. Helen has also pointed out that I use far too many pointless and distracting adjectives. Both my mother and my sister noticed this after they briefly skimmed some early chapters, but I thought I knew better. Ms Francis agrees with them. I was wrong. Now the adjectives thing is making me wonder why I thought I needed them in the first place. It might be that using too many adjectives is a way to avoid getting to the point. That’s probably because I wasn’t quite sure what that point should be or even what happened next in the story. More likely it’s a tendency to hide behind excess words because I don’t trust myself. This isn’t surprising because I trust virtually no one, so why should I trust me? There’s no habit for the trust thing.
Fixing all the points raised in the structural edit is extremely demanding and quite frankly exhausting. It’s at this stage that you understand that your book really is going to be published, and even if you might not agree with your editor’s suggestions, together you’re creating something that people will buy, a viable product. You might have to completely rethink how you present your characters. You might need to focus on how much or how little you want readers to get to know them and their role in the story, beyond helping to drive the plot. And yes, you must decide how many adjectives to use and which ones.
There is some real risk involved in this process. You need to make sure that the story doesn’t distort in the course of the rewriting and edits. This is almost harder than writing the thing in the first place, because you’re probably now working on some other work, one that’s completely different. Keeping within the bounds of the book is tough and it’s very tempting to bring in all sorts of other ideas as part of the structural editing process. You find there are lots of possible new digressions, subplots and thoughts you have in the middle of the night and think will made a massive improvement. Resist: they’re bound to go nowhere. Keep them far away from your editing process, keep them for another day, maybe as notes for a different story. Stay focused wholly on the work in hand.
And remember that you have to watch that fictional characters don’t start to change on the page. If you aren’t careful, this can happen almost without you realising it. Be disciplined and make sure to keep your face out of the narrative pie. Taking suggested edits one at a time and considering each one in the context of the paragraph, chapter and overall work, is slow and tedious work. It’s a first for me so I’m finding that process difficult. The structural editing thing is pushing me beyond what I thought were the limits of my abilities. Or perhaps I should say beyond whatever it is that feeds my sense of limits. I know I’ll get it done and in the end the Draftsman will be a much better product. Thank you Helen Francis.
Whether you’re a writer or not, sometimes doing the same old same old day after day can get a little dreary, tedious even. And you find the contact problem gets harder and harder to solve. Much as you want to, you just can’t seem to keep your bottom in contact with the chair. Any excuse will do: answering emails even the really uninteresting ones, checking to see if the postman’s been, having yet another cup of tea and having to go to the loo even more often. You start to wonder if you should rearrange your knicker drawer, or straighten your speaker wires, maybe colour code the food in your freezer. In extreme cases, even the hoovering is irresistable. And the contact problem isn’t just about making contact with the chair. How often have you decided that your keyboard, screen and mouse need a thorough clean or at least a good scrape around with your fingernail or the scissors? Anything but look at the screen and get your fingertips in touch. But the contact problem must be brutally addressed, otherwise your chosen profession becomes a hobby. Don’t use excuses of any description, especially not that you have writer’s block. Sit down and get on with it, even if it’s just a limerick or a haiku or a comment on someone else’s bookish blog.
As you sink reluctantly into place, cracking your knuckles, fiddling with mouse and screen angle, it might help to remember that writing is like any passion. What keeps it alive is doing it over and over again because you love it, even if you might occasionally forget that you love it. Like sex it can get better every time, but not necessarily always, every time. You know from experience that there will be lows and highs, and even just middlings. But you never know which it will be so you keep at it. You hope and know that this is something you have to do, because without it you’ll turn into a neurotic and potentially violent mess. Remember that you learn from every encounter, whether it is with a lover, a favourite walk, or a book, or your work. Doing it is the point and avoiding it will make you miserable.
It’s as true for readers as well as writers. They and we want to keep on reading and writing because we are all constantly looking for connections, big or small, intense or feeble. We write to express something we don’t necessarily understand, because it takes a reader to give the work meaning. Otherwise it’s just hollow words on a page, a bunch of random shapes and glyphs. I have spent pretty much my entire career selling words and continue to do so, but not every one of those years of articles or projects has been an unmitigated thrill. Many times I still sit down and stare blank and empty at the page or screen. I watch the clock out of the corner of my eye. I see it tick away the moments as a deadline slowly rises dark and gloomy into unwelcome view.
For writers there is no other choice, but to ignore the gloom and distractions and to keep on writing. It’s the only thing to ease back into place the wayward screw that’s floating loose somewhere deep inside our heads. We keep on writing because without it, the world makes no sense. We must exercise that passion, intense, fleeting, irrational, wild or even crazy as it seems. Passion is about what we cannot rationalise. It’s about the intangible, the indescribable and momentarily knowable, about stimulation and response. Its fleeting nature keeps us coming back for more, like gin and chocolate and all those other marvellous intoxicants that lead us elsewhere from ourselves.
Social media is one such intoxicant. It’s one of the best ways to overcome the contact problem, but it is also corrosive, distractive. It eats away at time and motivation and the depth or durability of its merits are questionable. It strokes our vanity, encourages our voyeuristic tendencies. At its best it’s a tool for finding writers to share with or for growing our readerships. But mostly it’s time-wasting noise. For the rare few to have found a place amongst the noise, that place provides comfort, reassurance that someone hears you, is listening. They may even respond with something sensible beyond the expectation of a response in turn. That might be why whole days can go by with the contact problem solved, and not a word written other than social media monitoring and replies. Overcoming that rather different contact problem is much harder.
Years ago I read pretty much all of Vladimir Nabokov’s novels and short stories. Stray words and phrases from his work have stayed with me and might be why reading Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte reminded me of those years.
There are plenty of references in Quichotte to chew on, from Nabokov, Shakespeare and Homer to US soap operats. It’s a multilayered story blurring various narrators’ identities and the boundaries between parallel and increasingly porous stories.
Quichotte starts off as a retake on Cervantes’ 1605 story of Don Quixote, sometimes considered the world’s first novel. Don Quixote is a man of uncertain mental health who has visions and takes to the road with his squire, Sancho. But Don Quixote’s tale is just a starting point for a more complex story in Quichotte. The reinvented modern Don Quixoteis Ismail Smile (I smile, I smile), an erudite old Indian American who lives in his car and motel rooms, and is obsessed with junk television. Highly educated and a little unhinged, Ismail Smile works as a salesman until his cousin at Smile Pharmaceuticals Inc fires him. Ismail Smile now has the opportunity to woo and win the heart of Salma R. a talkshow host celebrated as Oprah 2.0.
Advance warning of this story’s slipperiness, the uncertainty of identity, belonging, reality, comes early in the book. Ismail Smile says: “Perhaps this story is a metamorphosed version of his own?”. He wonders if “the writer’s tale was the altered version of his history”. I don’t know much about Salman Rushdie, but would bet that there’s a lot of him in Quichotte. Most of the characters are Indian with some connection to Bombay, so Quichotte might be an elaborate expression of the author’s identity as man and writer, of reality and fiction’s confused subjectiveness. With this in mind I was tempted to learn more about Salman Rushdie and his achievements, but resisted. I’m reviewing the book after all, not the author.
Like the original Don Quixote, or at least the bit of Rushdie’s novel that nods to it, Quichotte is a parody of the nature of chivalry and love. In both stories the hero takes to the road in pursuit of love. The original has a squire called Sancho Panza, and in Quichotte Ismail Smile imagines into being a son called Sancho. But Ismail Smile and Sancho are themselves fictions, creations of a crime novelist whose pen name is Sam du Champs. Author, the writer known as Sam DuChamp, is referred to as Brother by his sister whom he calls Sister. Brother has a Wife, now ex-Wife and Sister is married to a crossdressing man. They call each other Jack and their child Daughter. Ismail also has a sister whom he calls the Human Trampoline, for unconvincing reasons. It’s a reference to Paul Simon’s Graceland, the quintessential roadtrip album.
Author’s Son has disappeared as Sancho has appeared. Sancho wavers from real to unreal throughout the story until he reaches the end of his personal quest. Author and Son are reunited by a secret agent who goes by many names, one of which is Kyle, one of the Men in Black. This movie is about thwarting alien invasions and preventing the destruction of the planet, which is what appears to happen as the book progresses. The secret agent uses various last names. Oshima, Kagemusha, Mizoguchi and Makioka. The first three are Japanese film directors and Makioka might be from the Makioka Sisters a classic Japanese novel.
Nothing is what it seems as these multiple narratives overlap and converge. As in many Nabokov stories names are signals of intent, hints for how to read the narrative. Anderson Thayer, Salma R.’s assistant and bed buddy, might be named after the American painter Handerson Thayer. He painted lots of women and often gave them angel wings. Author Sam duChamps calls his son Son and Son calls himself Marcel DuChamp. Author’s primary character is alternately Quichotte and Ismail Smile. Fake names abound but only Sancho is uniquely referred to as Sancho (I think). Together with Sancho, Ismail Smile visits a town in New Jersey called Berenger. The name echoes Saunière Berenger the fraudulent nineteenth century priest whose story begat the Da Vinci Code. This lie or truth spawned multiple fictions in print and on screen. Ismail Smile and Sancho may or may not have visited Berenger but if they did, they found humans turned into Mastodons and behaving like idiots. Mastodons look like elephants, the symbol of Republican Party, and Trump supporters follow his lead.
As I started to wonder how much of this evaluation was true or prompted imaginings in my head, I started to feel buried and wonder if Quichotte is deliberately overwritten. This is especially true in the book’s early stages where the style is uncertain, repetitious and riddled with confusing and wearying lists. But it’s surely deliberate, a device to mimic a stranger’s encounters with the unfamiliar, of cultural anxieties. Rushdie hints at this often though I think he gets it wrong with Freddie Mercury. Of Author (Sam du Champs) he says: “Yes, the name on the books veiled his ethnic identity, just as Freddie Mercury veiled the Parsi Indian singer Farrokh Bulsara. This was not because the Queen front man was ashamed of his race but because he did not want to be prejudged, did not want to be ghettoed inside an ethnic-music pigeonhole surrounded by the bars of white attitudes.” Freddie Mercury was never in danger of being pigeonholed. He chose his new persona to step away from his Parsi identity towards a persona that was closer to his own reality: music, lots of wild sex and global possibly even interplanetary adulation.
But that’s a quibble. Quichotte’s multiple narrators, none of them reliable, provide possible autobiographical expositions, possible documentations of stuff in Rushdie’s head and memory, what moulded him. The Quichotte narrators show us how stories, our own and others, shape us whether we like or can admit it, or not. And the movie and music references are key to that. Sancho’s reference to slavery from Randy Newman’s Sail Away: “sailed away and crossed the mighty ocean into Charleston Bay” is swiftly followed by Disney lines from Pinnochio: “got no strings on me”. When Ismail and Sancho approach New York city Sancho runs lines in his head from Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. They are in New York to find Ismail Smile’s love, not Sancho’s. Real or no?
The choice of film titles reflects the author’s interests, experiences, or perhaps that’s just what he wants us to think. The list is long but pretty much all of the movies referenced involve a journey, spiritual, personal or literal, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s through to the Lord of the Rings. But we are told throughout this book not to trust or believe anything anyone says, as when Sancho says to his father “… you’re maybe someone else entirely” . It’s just another means of layering untruths which may be why the Pinocchio references get stronger and more frequent as the book progresses. The lying puppet aided by Jiminy Cricket and the Blue Fairy becomes a real boy and lives happily ever after. Sancho has a different fate.
It’s all quite entangled, the nature of creation and existence, the real and the unreal, the television story and the modern American story of opioid abuse, ingrained racism, corporate corruption, deep state manoeuvres and travel in time and space. And throughout there’s the undercurrent of recast identity for nonwhites in the USA, right down to quoting Creedence Clearwater Revival: “those old cotton fields back home”. This band evolved from an earlier group called the Golliwogs.
As this book progresses, following Ismail Smile and Sancho through the seven valleys (the Seven Valleys is a Persian poem, but the valleys are not the same), it shifts into something between a philosophical treatise and a representation of creative struggle, illustrated by music, television and film references. Sancho reminds us that “Even my birth, my personal origin story, had its roots in fantasy. Is that who I am? A close encounter of the what is it kind? Yeah. I know. Third. Where’s my mother ship?” (Close Encounters).
The musical references suggest subjective multiple perceptions and possibilities, uncertain interpretations, finding voice, who knows. Lyrics challenge the nature of belief and faith as in “will you still love me tomorrow?” by the Shirelles. In Nabokov’s book Look at the Harlequins! he creates a fictional autobiography to show how fiction reflects numerous realities in the author’s mind. Lies and lots of them tangled up with unreal events and people are what fiction’s all about. Fiction’s not truth. In Quichotte when Salma R. ponders her life, she observes that “a Russian writer had said, the one that preceded our birth, ‘the cradle rocks above an abyss,’ and ‘heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour)’”. In Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak Memory, he tells us “the cradle rocks above the abyss and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).” Rushdie omits Leonard Cohen’s lovely line: “there is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in” opting for Shakespeare’s sonnet XXX when Salma R. is striving to remember her childhood: “I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought”. The next bit says “And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:”
You mightn’t like this book and feel your time’s getting wasted in the early pages. I felt that way, but as the various stories unfolded I found myself wanting it to go on longer. As we approach the end of Quichotte time is indeed wasting. The world around the various narratives melts. Celluloid burning into light when the film reel gets stuck. As the book reaches its conclusion the cartoon and the real expand and contract, and more characters from Pinocchio come into the picture. The Blue Fairy warns Sancho not to pursue his quest then changes her mind when Sancho disagrees. Salvation or redemption?
And so it goes on. It is far beyond me to compress much more into a simple book review, but I am sure that there is a whole story in the selection of film and television and song references in Quichotte from the Beatles to Springsteen. The films dominate and here are a few in the order in which they appear in the book: the World According to Garp, Blazing Saddles, Psycho, Ghostbusters, the Wizard of Oz, the Man with No Name, Silence of the Lambs, The OK Corrall, The Godfather, When Harry Met Sally, Paris Texas, To Catch a Thief, Men in Black, Bonnie & Clyde, Who Killed Roger Rabbit. See if you can find them and let me know which ones I have missed, because even these choices might be shorthand hints for the narratives.
This is all a very long way from Nabokov, Homer and Shakespeare, and that’s why Quichotte is so very well worth the read and brainsweat. The book ends with what might be a touching reference to a long forgotten television soap opera. It’s about a fictitious hospital in Boston nicknamed St Elsewhere. In the final episode a little boy shakes a snow globe and we understand that the stories in the whole of St Elsewhere’s 137 episodes happened in his imagination. Quichotte ends with a similar reference: “That other world, which he now understood to be the one he himself had made, was a miniature universe, perhaps captured under a glass dome — a snow globe”.
There’s not much for me to add to the Biden-Trump conversations, because Trump leaves me speechless. But I have been pondering the things he can look forward to hopefully starting in November, worse case in four years time.
Top of the list has to be another divorce. In her unapproved speech for the Republican National Convention, broadcast apparently illegally from the White House, Melania Trump’s message was about as far from Trump-speak as possible. Sympathetic to victims of Covid-19 and health care workers, lauding immigrants’ success, kindness, compassion, miles from the divisiveness of her awful husband. She’ll bugger off as soon as she can.
Trumpo’s bad hair days will only get worse, the breezes more cruel, the prospect of rain more terrifying. The hair is slowly falling out, getting stringier, a daily reminder of corruption and decay. He will also be pulling his hands through it more often as the slew of pending prosecutions starts rolling in.
He might be exempt, but prosecution under the Hatch Act for using the White House as a prop, is a possibility. And surely there is a team of people somewhere beavering away at a prosecution under the emoluments clause of the US constitution. There might be something from Amazon, for Trump’s efforts to get the US Post Office to double shipping rates for the company. Ditto Time Warner for his efforts to block the merger with AT&T because of CNN’s coverage of Trump, which he doesn’t like. Fraud cases will blossom, and bankruptcy will follow.
Despite the efforts to steer business towards his miserable venues, they will start to falter. The Doral resort in Florida will definitely not be the venue for a G-7 summit. Another guy who was bitten by bedbugs at the Doral will sue and the place will finally collapse under the weight of its debts. Deutsche Bank will call in their loans, leading a charge that will see other Trump assets start to crumble.
He might sign a new contract for the Apprentice reality television show, but will fail to read it. The new deal will be that business owners will give him a trial to see how well he does different jobs. Those jobs could be chosen in a lucky dip and include such things as cleaning out the vats in a meat processing plant, sewage pipe maintenance, innder city school bus driver, pedicurist in a salon specialised in treatments for black people. If he goes for the porno star option, he could be rated on his performance, offered a job maybe. But mostly the audience would be shouting along: “Fire that man!” And he’ll get a dose of the clap compounded by Covid-19.
And then there are all the people waiting in the queue to blackmail him for various offences. They include site managers of his building projects, women and more women, the bloke who took Trump’s SATs, another bloke who did his college midterms and finals, the guy who wrote his essays. Stormy Daniels’ Trump love child will come of age and want to meet dad, and there’ll be another Trump book or two. One will be a bestselling compilation of the documented 15,000 and counting Trump lies.
The ghosts of all the migrant children who have died in US Federal custody will haunt him. Their parents will sue and win, forcing a major overhaul of immigration law (not the legacy he has in mind). The litigations will blossom. A class action suit will be lodged on behalf of the over 5,400 migrant children separated from their parents. Trump will be prosecuted for manslaughter following the deaths of people who ingested disinfectants on his advice. Puerto Rico will sue him for negligence over the hurricane in 2017. The US government will prosecute him for misconduct in office and for lying to pretty much everyone, whenever he wanted to, regardless of the seriousness of the lies. The Internal Revenue Service will hit him for back taxes dating from the early 1990s.
As for the shady Russian stuff, Trump’s son-in-law will be exposed as a double agent, despite being unaware that he is one. The Washington Post will never stop digging and publishing, encouraging Trump’s latent paranoia. QAnon will invite him to become their leader and he’ll accept “carnival not cannibal right?”.
He’ll catch Covid-19 again, struggle, recover and then catch it, repeat. The last time will kill him whilst on a hunting trip with Putin in the Urals, freezing off his fake tan arse and teensy, hairless testicles. Putin will have gone home without Trump noticing. President Xi will send no condolences, nor will Zelensky or any other grown-up. No one will mourn.