“She just walked away”
In the opening chapter of We’ll Never Tell Them, Fiorella De Maria takes us from Kristjana’s home to St James’ Park in the middle of London.
There, Kristjana sends a text message to her boss – ‘I resign’ – before dropping her mobile phone into the water.
Who does such a thing as that?
Well, someone who is no longer prepared to live a normal live; someone who has crossed the rubicon between desire and act. What Kristjana does is very unusual, though not, I suspect, unrecognisable. As de Maria says,
There is a little part of every person that dreams of doing this, but most adults are too rational and too anchored by life to contemplate actually going through with it.
I can relate to that. I used to do a job which I hated. The people were great – except, unfortunately, the managers, who though kind in their way were not as organised as they could or should have been and so were not as supportive as they could or should have been – but the work…*
While doing this job, I would very much have liked to have taken a walk to St James’ Park, resigned and thrown my mobile phone into the water. However, one has bills and commitments to other people…
It is not clear what Kristjana does about her bills. Presumably, she has enough money in the bank to take care of them for the foreseeable future. As for people, no parents are mentioned so they are out of the picture and Kristjana does not appear to have a partner. One man is mentioned – Benedict – but he is living in America and could just be a friend.
So, Kristjana is a free agent. Having packed her passport and some clothes into her rucksack at home, she leaves the park, jumps onto a train and begins her journey to Heathrow. Such is her freedom of movement this morning that she only decides her destination as the train speeds towards the airport.
The setting for Chapter One is a perfectly normal one. I live in London. I could leave my desk right now, take a walk to St James’ Park and stand where Kristjana does.
Kristjana’s actions, however, because of their unusual nature, give the story a fairy-tale feel. We don’t know at this stage if she is about to embark on a great quest, but she has surely fulfilled the first action of the hero by leaving everything behind**. With effortless ease, therefore, and without disrupting the story’s narrative flow, de Maria has shifted her genre from fiction with a contemporary setting to something approaching a myth.
Before finishing, I would like to mention a poem that appears in this chapter.
If memory serves from my first reading of We’ll Never Tell Them, de Maria punctuates her story throughout with lines from poems.
Here, she quotes the first line of William Wordsworth’s Upon Westminster Bridge.
Earth has not anything to show more fair.
Wordsworth is talking about the morning. You can read his poem here.
de Maria places this line after Kristjana leaves home, having decided to quit her job and go travelling.
At first, it appears that the line refers to Kristjana’s new freedom. Go girl! We might be tempted to say. But then, de Maria adds that Kritjana, was now
… back in the hinterland of her childhood, watching the antics of a tribe she did not understand.
Although Kristjana is happy to stay ‘in that in-between, “not quite” world’ of her childhood, I can’t help but feel that her ‘regression’ is rather sad. Does her adult life have so little too offer that she prefers returning to her childhood? Actually, maybe so.
Either way, it gives a neat warning that childhood has a large part to play in this story, though, as we will find out, it is not Kristjana’s.
* Lest it be thought that the blame was all on the other side, I must admit that I could have done better in the role as well
** It has been a long time since I read about the structure of myths so forgive me if I have got them completely wrong. I have a copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces somewhere but haven’t opened it for some years…