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Claire Messud

“But fourteen is not an age at which you ask outright for answers: not yet. Those in-between years are a haze of second-guessing and dialogues entirely of the mind. The possibility of human proximity seems greater than ever it will again, trailing still the unreflective clouds of childhood, the intimate, unsentenced dialogue of laughter or of games. Children do not have the words to ask and so do not imagine asking; not asking and not imagining, they eradicate distance: they take for granted that everything, someday, will be understood.

Adolescence, then, is a curious station on the route from ignorant communion to our ultimate isolation, the place where words and silences reveal themselves to be meaningful and yet where, too young to acknowledge that we cannot gauge their meaning, we imagine it for ourselves and behave as if we understood. Only with the passage of years, wearied, do we resort to asking. With the inadequacy of asking and the inadequacy of replies comes the realization that what we thought we understood bears no relation to what exists, the way, seeing the film of a book we have read, we are aghast to find the heroine of a strapping blonde when we had pictured her all these years a small brunette; and her house, which we envisaged so clearly and quaintly on the edge of a purple moor, is a vast, unfamiliar pile of rubble with all its rooms out of order.”

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Excerpted from the novel The Last Life by Claire Messud.

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