“It was hard to settle down to routine. Brushing your teeth, feeding the dog, studying for a test, these things did not have the gut-grabbing excitement of towing a steel dumpbin through a rain of bullets while you hoped your friends, who were hiding in the dumpbin at the time, didn’t get killed. I didn’t want to be addicted to this kind of stuff, I knew it was unhealthy, but like all addictions it had its hands around my throat before I knew it was there.” (Chapter 2)
“I wanted to be able to sit through each class, have recess and lunch like normal, hang out with the usual people, knowing all the time that while they’d spent the night doing homework and watching TV and then going to bed, I’d spent it spearing through the night on the quaddie, in enemy territory, carrying a huge amount of money, meeting a spy, collecting secret documents, risking death.
How weird life was. How amazing that an average human like me could be so adaptable. I did fall asleep a couple of times in lessons but the rest of the time I spent wondering how I had ended up in this strange existence.” (Chapter 2)
“There’s a lot of different ways to get to your house”, Homer said at last.
“Like, if you go along here a k there’s another ford”
“That’s the truth”
“It’d be good to take the scenic route more often”
“Homer, what the hell is this about?”
“If you took different routes all the time, it’d be harder for anyone to ambush you”
He said it so casually that it took me a while to realize how sinister his message was.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
When he didn’t answer I slowly understood that life was not the way I’d thought, that my life had a different shape to the one I’d imagined. It wasn’t the first time this had happened but it was the first time I’d seen it so clearly.” (Chapter 2)
“I sat there, continuing to figure. It was like a sudoku. Mrs Barlow, my English teacher, had been saying the other day how when you write a story you should think sudoku. Give the reader a few bits and they’ll figure the rest out, no problem. She used me as an example. “If you say ‘Ellie got on the tractor’ then you can figure Ellie’s on a farm, you don’t need to tell the reader that, they can work it out for themselves”. (Chapter 2)
“Before the raid and the conversation with Homer things had actually been going rather well. Maybe the problem is that I don’t touch wood enough. Maybe the problem is that God likes to play with us. Teasing us the way a kid does with a spider, when he harasses it for a while then lets it crawl away into a hidey-hole, and after a few minutes the spider thinks he’s safe and comes out again and there’s the kid, waiting, ready for the next round. And so on and so on until the kid decides that he’s had enough for now, he’s bored, and he squishes the spider.” (Chapter 3)
“What kind of things would they want?”
Homer flushed. “It could be you”, he said awkwardly. “It could be both of us. It could be the whole group. They probably have quite a high awareness of us”
“I suppose so”, I said miserably. We hadn’t thought about this enough. It certainly hadn’t been part of our consciousness during the war, and only in recent times had I started to realize that yes, actions do have consequences, even actions that seems right and justifiable. I’d done nothing I’d been ashamed of during the war, or after the war for that matter, leaving aside a few personal things, like the party in New Zealand, but even so, I couldn’t expect the enemy to see it that way, and I was starting to realize that they definitely didn’t.” (Chapter 5)
“I never know how much attention to pay to my senses but sometimes I think we’d be better off if we did take more notice to them. It’s like they don’t get much of a look in these days. Poor things. Seems like they always get pushed to the back of the queue. In our society anyway. I bet they didn’t in Aboriginal society, or any of those tribes who had to live in harmony with the environment, who didn’t see the environment as something they had to control or defeat. They would have had their senses working pretty well, I reckon. Too bad if they didn’t. Those crocodiles can have your leg off in no time. Sharks can bite pretty hard. And as for dinosaurs, man, they’d have you for afternoon tea and still complain they were hungry.
So what are you going to do? You’re going to develop all your senses to the max, till the faintest change in the environment has your skin prickling and your tongue drying and your brain catching up a split second later and saying, “Wait a minute, something’s happening there”. Then gradually we evolved. I’m not sure why, or when.” (Chapter 6)
“I remember hearing how, during World War II, the guy in charge of the SS, the worst of the worst, went to see his soldiers executing Jews and anyone else they’d put on their list – gays, gypsies, people who loved peace – and when he saw all these rows of people being shot in the head and pushed into mass graves he collapsed and was sick and had to be helped back to his car.
OK, so you wouldn’t think he’d go home and think, “Sheez, something’s wrong here… my instincts are trying to tell me something. Wonder what it could be?”. Instead, he goes back to Berlin, sits down at his desk, and lets his mind take charge again. Forget those dumb instincts, what would they know? He thinks, “I can’t let our nice young German soldiers be exposed to that kind of nastiness”.
He draws up plans for a new system that allows people to be killed in a clean, organised, scientific way. He established death factories. They’re called concentration camps. He didn’t follow his instincts and six million people paid the price.” (Chapter 6)
“Of course sometimes you can’t trust your instincts. You have to override them. You have to know that even if your senses are feeding you the right info, your instincts mightn’t be processing them properly, and your brain better get involved fast or something tragic might happen.” (Chapter 6)
“All the sensible thoughts were gone, all memories were wiped clean, the future didn’t exist. At those times you can accept the possibility of your own death. When I see people who are grief-stricken because someone they know has died suddenly, I want to say this to them: “It’s not so bad for the people who die. When they see it coming and they’ve had no warning, they accept it. In the few moments that they have, they accept it. They give up everything, their obligations, their hopes, their fears, they give them all up without a fight. They tense their body and they take the blow and they don’t have room or time for anything else. They know it has to be and so all the fear leaves them. Believe me, I’ve seen enough people die. Believe me, I’ve been close to death enough times now. This is the way it is”. The problem isn’t for them, it’s for the people left behind. They have time to think about it all. And they have imagination. I don’t think it’s always a good idea to have both time and imagination. Because what you do then of course is go over and over what happened, reliving it a hundred or thousand times, in slow motion, adding a soundtrack and an emotion track.
The dead people can’t do that. They got it over and done with in a couple of seconds. You’re stuck with it for fifty years. Or more.” (Chapter 7)
“You’re locked into a lot of things in life, but with most of them, like your personality and your feelings and your coolness or lack of coolness, you kid yourself that you can change them at any moment. Even your weight. But you can’t kid yourself about your skin colour or the way your eyes and nose and mouth are shaped and arranged. You’re locked into your body for life.
There was some white journalist in America, back in the fifties or whenever, who took chemicals to make his skin go black for a while, and then wrote a book about being a dark-skinned person in a white society. It sold squillions but someone told me the guy died young from the toxic effects of the chemicals.
It did strike me as interesting that white people had to have a white guy explain to them what it was like to be black. They couldn’t hear it from a black person.” (Chapter 9)
“People get locked into roles and attitudes. On a normal day of school we are just the sheep, teenagers who get herded around in flocks. But once they put us on that stage we became experts. We were authorities on teenagers and reading. People listened. They wrote down what we said.
They applauded as we left. You’re assigned roles all the time. Baby, girl, rural, child, daughter of the Lintons, teenager, war hero, person who looks after Gavin. White. Or black. Or Asian or Hispanic or Polynesian. When it comes to being assigned roles in life, skin colour’s a biggie. And for me, I was officially white.” (Chapter 9)
“Life has never been fair, is not fair and will never be fair. This is Ellie’s First Law. Ninety percent of the rage in the world is because most people don’t understand that. I don’t know where everyone got the idea that life was meant to be fair, but they sure got a bum deal with that message.
Once you know fairness is not required, is not compulsory, and in fact often has nothing to do with anything, you can get on with it. If life were fair our country would never have been invaded, Lee and Gavin and I would still have parents; Robyn and Corrie and Chris would be alive.” (Chapter 18)
“My eyes fill for a moment at the loneliness of him. But there is one person who can help him a little bit, maybe, with his loneliness, and so I run up the slope. No use calling his name, and I don’t want to startle him by rushing up behind him with no warning so I do a bit of a circuit that brings me into his circle of flight.” (Epilogue)
“There’s life in his face again. It occurs to me that this is the best thing I could have done, it’s actually a great way to leave, because it’s giving Gavin the message that we haven’t been defeated, we are up for it, we’re young, we’re in control of our lives again, we can charge into the future with confidence. When we round the corner of the driveway I take his hand and we run down to the gate together.” (Epilogue)