Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar, DJ Connell

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The Premise:

From the moment he is born, Julian’s mother decides that he has ‘star quality’ and will achieve great things. But his father’s fear difference could hold Julian back, especially when they are forced to relocate to Hobart. Will Julian find the place he belongs? Or will he fall by the wayside?

The Verdict

I did not enjoy this book. It was too much like a biography – a bunch of nonsense things that happened to a person before they became famous that helped to make them who they are. Whilst for people who like biographies, this is fine, for me, it just wasn’t enough – definitely not my type of fiction. It’s the book for my June book club meeting, and after The Hate You Give it was a massive disappointment!

The genre and the writing style aside, I have to say that Connell paints what I can only assume is an accurate but rather bleak picture of 1960s Australia, in which homosexuality is a ‘dirty little secret’ and those who openly express their orientation in Tasmania are marked as outsiders. Julian’s homosexuality is made clear from about page 2 of the novel, making it a natural part of the narrative, and his keeping it a secret is a part of his every day life. Whilst it seems to me that ‘star quality’ seems to be a euphemism for homosexuality, there are also elements of Julian’s nature that could also account for this reference. It seems that Connell attempts to inhabit the mindset of 1960s Tasmanians and is, in this sense, successful, as she creates a very realistic and believable society with their own damaging preconceptions and idiosyncrasies.

Julian himself is a frustrating character. He is pampered by his mother and bullied by his father, but believes that he is destined to do great things. This belief in his destiny makes him lazy and almost unbearable as a protagonist. His flair for story telling, and constantly embellishing the truth with unnecessary lies, as hard to pin point at first but one of the key reasons I disliked him so much.

To be honest, I don’ have much to say about this book. It really wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t seek out this author again.

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After You, Jojo Moyes

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The Premise

After 6 months of looking after quadriplegic Will Taynor, and falling in love with him, Will committed assisted suicide at Dignitas. Now, estranged from her family because of her complicity in his suicide, Lou is trying to build a life for herself in London, that will bring honour to the legacy that Will left her. But how do you move on from love? And when Will’s past interrupts Lou’s stagnant life, can she move on from his memory, or will she always be trying to please him?

The Verdict

I felt that this novel had more to it than the original. Rather than just relying on the unusual romance between carer and their charge, there were several layers to this book and it addressed more than one serious issue.

It was helpful that aside from one chapter, the narrative was solely from Lou’s point of view which meant that it flowed a lot better. The interspersion could have been done without – the reader could have learned some of the truths about Lily retrospectively as Lou learned them – but it wasn’t as much of an issue was the constant interruptions in the first novel.

Moyes developed the 2D characters of the first novel a little better in this one, especially in the case of Lou’s mother, who makes some progression as a person herself. Her children, and husband, come across as very un-supportive of her developing some feminist attitudes and ways, which is disappointing in a generation where we are more and more encouraging them in ourselves. It added comedy rather than depth to the narrative, undermining the positivity of the presence of some actual character development.

Moyes attempts to address serious issues such as rape, co-erced, drunken teenage sex, grief and depression. It’s a big ask for what I would say is an average author. I felt like the rape and co-erced sexual componant wasn’t given enough seriousness or time. She used it as a way for Lily and Lou to bond, which was fine because victims of similar crimes often do, but it was a story tool and I hate that about it because it undermines the seriousness of those crimes. Lily is offered no counselling and very little support after what happens to her, and with very little build up, she was suddenly being blackmailed and hit on by a 40 year old man (who was trying to bribe her for sex). There was little preparation for the content which I think actually needs a trigger warning. But the worst thing about it is that it is purely a literary tool to move Lily and Lou’s friendship along, without any real consideration for the seriousness of the crime, and no consequence for the perpetrators.

Moyes portrayal of grief is a little more successful – the ‘Moving On’ group seems relevant and thought through, and it was interesting to observe people addressing their different grief. Lou’s attitude towards it wasn’t great, especially how she suddenly became ‘healed’ when the others were still in the early stages of their grief. Perhaps that reflects the short lived nature of hers and Will’s relationship, perhaps it’s a reflection of the passion for life that she and Will shared, but actually it just felt like she moved on and very little consequence, even willing to give up her goodbye speech to Will to his daughter who didn’t know him.

Speaking of Lily, let’s talk about her mother for a moment. Moyes seems to love a flat, 2D, bad guy. Last time it was ‘Running Man’ Patrick, obsessed with exercise and oblivious to everything else. This time it was Lily’s mother, a self centred, uncaring woman, unable to cope with her teenage daughter and willing to palm her off onto any other human who offered. This was an unacceptable portrayal of motherhood, and by referring constantly to her wealth and big house, implied that it was this that was at the cause. Moyes tried to flesh her out by portraying her as a gold digger, but she was an unrealistically negative character and Moyes could have done better.

Overall, though, I did prefer the story to the previous novel. Lily added some more interest in the story, as Will’s daughter, and it was interesting to see Lou try to balance who she is with suddenly becoming responsible for another person. Lou’s relationship with Sam was also a highlight, but again, she falls in love too quickly. The ending was secure, it was good that Lou went off on her adventure and started trying to live again.

I won’t be seeking out Moyes – I get too frustrated at her characterisation of the side characters and her stories are too reliable. But it was a relatively enjoyable read and a very different tone to the original.

Allegiant, Veronica Roth

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The Premise:

Now that their city knows the truth, Tris and Tobias want to travel outside to see what, as divergents, they can do in response to the video that has revealed their importance. Desperate to escape the city that is now under the control of Evelyn, Tobias’ mother, they leave without authorisation and come across an unexpected world. What do you do when you discover that everything you know is a lie? And in a world where everyone you know is considered damaged, who do you save?

The Verdict:

I was a bit nervous about reading Allegiant after the disappointment of Insurgent, but I am glad that I’m stubborn and insist on finishing a series if I start it because Allegiant brought back a lot that I loved about the first novel that the second lost.

MASSIVE SPOLIER

Tris dies!

I am always complaining about how authors set their characters into impossible situations and yet, remarkably, the protagonist always survives. When Tris decided to go into the control room rather than her brother to face a deathly serum, I tutted and ploughed onwards, knowing that despite all the adversity Tris would survive and the novel would end with her and Tobias happily moving on with their lives. And when she defeated the serum and didn’t die immediately, my frustration grew. Now she was facing David, who of course had a secret inoculation against the death serum. When she went for the memory serum deployment and got shot, my cynicism told me that aid would soon be rushing to her side. But it didn’t. Then she saw her mother, and rather than encouraging her to return to the world she was desperately trying to save, Tris’ mother said yes, your work is done, come with me now. And Tris died. It was a moving moment, but from my point of view the real triumph there was Roth’s, who had the audacity to kill off her protagonist properly. It was both heart wrenching and satisfying at the same time, a victory for realistic, modern teenage fiction, but a loss to the world that Roth created. I was impressed with the skill that Roth wrote the scene, which will stand out in my mind as a highlight of the entire series.

Of course, Roth had to pave the way for her to be able to do this. Rather than focus on the singular narrative of Tris, she created a dual narrative which alternated, a little ad hoc, between Tris and Tobias. This made up for the deficit in Insurgent by adding a little more depth to the narrative, however, Tobias’ character was stiff and unnatural. Despite being given his own voice, he was still Tris’ Tobias, with little depth or character beyond what Tris had already painted. Even his attempt to go along with the failed revolution was a little boring because he didn’t have the depth of character that made us really sympathise with his struggle or his final choice. There was also not enough build up to the fact that all he wanted was a mother and he was willing to risk the safety of his city, his friends and everything he knew to give her a chance to come back to him. Evelyn failed as a character precisely because she wasn’t the sort of person to put family first, and her desire to be a mother could not fulfil her dictator tenancies. Killing Tris off was impressive, but giving Tobias a mother to replace her kind of undermined their relationship by showing that Tobias was just desperate for a strong woman to love him, and when he lost Tris, his mother was going to become enough.

Some of Roth’s world building was fascinating, especially the use of propaganda which is portrayed as a truth and then systematically taken apart as Tobias and Tris make several different discoveries. The fear of the ‘other’ here is not gender, or skin colour or orientation but an invisible genetic different. The genetically pure decided that anyone with altered genes was problematic, and altered their history so that future generations would believe this. This was an indictment of current society, where we take differences and nurture them into hatred rather than building a better world together. Tris’ understanding of Caleb helped with this belief – he made the decisions he made because of who he was, not necessarily because of who his genes made him, and she had to learn to forgive him completely before she could move on.

I don’t think enough was made of Tris’ heritage – the link to Edith Prior or the history of her mother who joined the city later. A clandestine love between David and Tris’ mother was detrimental to the main narrative as it wasn’t gone into in depth and seemed like a clumsy afterthought. Roth’s story is very plot drive, and lacks the depth of some of the mature fiction that focuses on the building of a world and characterisation as a priority. Everyone seemed to fall into a character cliche – the boyfriend, the best friend, the side character who died and their loving family – and there didn’t seem to be much else to them. The focus was Tris, and partially Tobias.

However, complaints aside, I enjoyed Allegiant a lot more than I expected to, and hats off to Roth for following through with the challenging authorial decision to kill off the protagonist (albeit with some painful cliches as Tobias processed her departure). I won’t seek out Roth again specifically, but if I came across something by her I would probably read it. Perhaps it’s time I focussed on some adult fantasy to give me the depth and commitment that I need… I do still have Wheel of Time to finish!

Insurgent, Veronica Roth

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The Premise

Following on from the events from Divergent, Tris and Four and their small band of abnegation survivors head for Amity to hid from Jeannine’s violent attack. They must choose between staying in safety, or heading back into the city and facing their enemy head on. But with Four’s hatred of his father simmering, will they be able to work together to reveal the secret that Abnegation has been hiding? Or will Tris’ guilt regarding the attack and fear of the future stop her?

The Verdict

I thought the film was better.

Phew, confession over and done with. It’s rare, but it does occasionally happen. One of the most fascinating aspects of the film was the fact that Tris had to overcome multiple simulations in order to unlock the message from the outside world. Her suffering was purposeful, and she voluntarily continued it when she was rescued in order to open the lines of communication with the outside world. I found that concept fascinating – that the experiment was growing humans in the hope that one day one of them would be able to unlock the message and reunite the factions with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, this did not happen, and it has to be my biggest complaint. Whilst the torture was purposeful in the novel – so that Jeannine could create a serum that will effect all the Divergent, that motivation was not as multi-faceted as the motivation in the movie. In fact, it took Jeannine from villain to too villainous. Whilst it is hard to stomach, the idea of genocide of the Divergent was relevant and could have continued, but Jeannine’s desire for control was over written and over presented (I must iterate here that I’m not saying I can ever understand why people commit genocide, just that it seemed to be Jeannine’s original goal). It was a shame that she became so fixated on the serum so that she essentially lost any of the character that made her a 3D antagonist with layers of complexity. Mixed with the over writing of the natures of the factions (ALL the erudite being obsessed with knowledge and having nothing else interesting about them) and the book became quite dry and basic.

I’ve gone up and down with Tris’ character too. One of the reasons I love her, which I made clear in my review of Divergent (available here: https://readexerciserepeat.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/divergent-veronica-roth/ ), is that she dictates her own destiny. She continues to react to events, rather than being caught up in them against her will, and takes her fate into her own hands when she hands herself over to Erudite. However, Roth’s writing of Tris was rather disappointing. Focussing on her weaknesses – her inability to hold a gun, her missing her parents, her dependence on Tobias and their often volatile relationship – should have made her a stronger character, but like Jeannine, it took away what it was that made her stand out before because it was constantly referred to and made a key feature of the novel. Perhaps it would have been better if this had been more purposeful, but instead it just felt repetitious and boring.

I also have some issues with the relationship between Tobias and Tris. Roth attempts to give it too much of an adult glaze, requiring the 16 year olds to be committing to each other in emotional ways beyond the abilities of a teenager in the throes of their first romantic love. I’m not saying that relationships developed in teenage years can’t become happy adult relationships, I’m just saying that Roth tries to give their relationship adult depth unsuccessfully. The most real times are when they argue, which is a lot in this novel, but Tris’ idolisation of Tobias is a frightening insight into how relationships can become abusive. He has no reason to keep secrets from her, no reason to be paranoid, no reason to distrust her, but these things almost lead to the destruction of the piece of evidence that will ultimately save her life. He is wrapped up in his own ‘thing’, and their relationship is uncomfortable to read throughout the novel because some of the things he does and says are the starts of a relationship break down that could lead to some harm.

Also an issue is that nothing really happened. Ultimately, they allied with the factionless and broke into Erudite headquarters. There was a lot of reading to get to that core content. I don’t feel like Tris really developed as a character and the first person narration limits the development of her co-stars as well. In fact, I think Roth felt this as well as in conversation with Jeannine Tris points out ‘I’m 16, I change’ – a blatant attempt to pretend that there has been any character development at all.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of the novel was Caleb’s betrayal of Tris. This was unexpected but also understandable – especially when Tris learns that Erudite was split into two parts, those who believe Jeannine unquestioningly and those who don’t. Caleb’s personality and loyalty to faction were clear from Divergent and it is unsurprising that he returns to this belief. In this sense, the first person narration made it even more shocking because Tris truly had no idea, which mean that the reader didn’t either. This was a clever twist, but not enough to rescue the entire novel.

I have Allegiant here to read and look forwards to completing the trilogy, however, my hopes for the final instalment are minimal. I know that Roth has written several novellas regarding characters in the series – at this point it’s fair to say that I won’t be reading them.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

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The Premise

Lou Clark lives a simple life, working at the same coffee shop for her whole working life, dating Patrick, a steady man, for the last 7 years. But when the coffee shop closes, she is thrust into an unfamiliar world of care work. Her patient is Will, a young quadriplegic who is struggling to live with the pain and hopelessness his accident has left him feeling. He is determined to end his life… but can Lou save it?

The Verdict

I feel like I’m starting to make a habit of having to make these confessions and have to admit that I knew how this story went as I watched the movie first, a while ago. Both the movie and the novel were recommended by my younger sister. Now, she is very loyal and reads every blog post that I write, and it is with a heavy heart that I have to preface this review by saying that I found this novel very… ‘meh’… for lack of a better word, as I know she loves it!

Perhaps because the shock ending of Will committing assisted suicide was taken away, I didn’t really engage with the story or the writing. Rather than sticking to the first person narration of Lou, Moyes interspersed the odd first person narration of other characters – Will’s mum, Nate (Will’s nurse) and Treena (Lou’s sister). But these weren’t regularly spread out through the novel, they just kind of appeared as an extra that seemed a bit unnecessary. It was lazy writing really – Moyes didn’t want to have to explain it through Lou’s eyes and so brought in other narrators. If this had been regular, or more consistently done, it might have added to the story, but as it is, it is messy and just takes away from Lou’s narrative. Perhaps Moyes’ idea was to wrap everything up with the police report at the end of the novel and reveal that the writing had been a part of the police reports assessing the circumstances of Will’s death. If that was the case, it was even more poorly done than the general narrative. That in itself wasn’t a great framing to the novel – Moyes needs to become an expert in the narrative she is using before trying to frame it in different ways.

The story itself was sweet and honest, expressing the struggles of being a carer for a quadriplegic. I liked Lou’s exploration of the forums for quadriplegics, and found Moyes descriptions of how Lou had to care for Will moving and genuine. The internet is a remarkable resource now for people from all walks of life, and it’s nice to see it being utilised in this way. However, once again Moyes doesn’t really do it justice, ocasionally altering the text to show what Lou is reading but not focusing in on it. There was just wasn’t enough depth.

I found Lou’s relationship with Treena, and Moyes’ portrayal of Treena, especially frustrating. Treena is a 2D, selfish and self centred character. Her attempts to support Lou do not mitigate her absence of action when Lou was assaulted. The chapter in her voice shows a completely self centred character who is petty despite having a child and being at university – such as referring to Lou’s room as ‘it was still my room’. Moyes’ portrayal of the working class family is realistic, but exaggerated to the point where it can be ridiculed.

Speaking of ridicule… Patrick. ‘Running Man’ as Will calls him, is a shallow, self centred, obsessive jerk. At no time is his passion for eating well and exercising celebrated. His job is undermined by only really being mentioned when he makes the mistake of suggesting to Will that he could get better. Patrick had potential to be a deep and interesting character, but Moyes overwrites his obsession with exercise. The only time he felt like a real person was when he got angry about Lou’s holiday with Will – and understandable reaction. Lou had dated Patrick for 7 years and whilst Moyes hints that there was some change in him over that time as he became more obsessed, we see none of the good that Lou once saw in him. Moyes scraped the bottom of the barrel by making him the leak to the press regarding Will’s assisted suicide, which to me seemed out of the tiny little bit of character that he had portrayed. It was fine for Lou to break up with her boyfriend, but Moyes should have spent more time creating an actual believable character rather than getting out some frustration at people who do extreme sports.

Overall, the book was disappointing and despite its serious content, lacked the depth and maturity needed to truly engage the reader in the subject matter. I will read the sequel, once I’m done with Insurgent and Alligient, but after that I won’t be seeking out Moyes again.

If She Did It, Jessica Treadway

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The Premise

Hanna was attacked in her own home, but holds no memory of the night that killed her husband and alienated her from her youngest daughter, Dawn, whose boyfriend is held responsible for the attack. With Rud’s successful appeal presenting the need for a new trial, will Hanna’s memory of the attack come back? And, in all honesty, does she want it to, when it might implicate the daughter she has just invited back into her home?

The Verdict

The write up of the novel sounds good – even when summarising it above I was intrigued by the premise. The trouble is, the delivery was not great. I found the book really boring – it’s taken me almost 2 weeks to read it because every time I tried I was just bored by the writing style, the bland characters and the lack of anything happening. Much of the story is told through flashback, with Hanna remembering events leading up to her attack. They are memories that could apply to any situation – her daughter bringing a new boyfriend to her sister’s wedding, family not getting on with the new man in a child’s life, happy family memories and those of friendships coming to an end. There was nothing exceptional about the way they were written or what they portrayed. If Treadway was simply trying to emphasise how normal the family was, she did it so successfully that they simply weren’t interesting to read about.

A few feature of the novel was Dawn’s struggle with her lazy eye, and her inability to make friends. Hanna’s perception of this as a mother is really naive, and the way she and her husband Joe dealt with it is uncomfortable, in the way they refuse her surgery and refer to it. They end up helping her to alienate herself from her peers because they refuse to acknowledge the lazy eye. Perhaps there was more to Dawn’s disability – she definitely struggled socially – but this was not portrayed successfully by Treadway until it was raised in the final pages. It wasn’t a great character development.

Dawn was so obviously the culprit from the first page. I know I often work out the endings of books because I have read so much, but it was so obviously pointing towards her.

The one thing that Treadway did manage to do well was portray a mother’s blind spots. Hanna has a history of trying to protect Dawn from what she is. She cannot see that her daughter needs help beyond that of the fixing of the lazy eye and refuses to accept the criminal behaviour that Dawn exhibited in her teenage years. Treadway shows how a mother can choose what she wants to see in the way that Hanna can’t see that the surgery has totally reversed itself until the final scene with Dawn in the police station. Treadway demonstrates successfully how a mother can refuse to acknowledge the deficits of their children, even at risk to themselves. However, again, this didn’t really come across in the powerful way it had the potential to, but was subtly hinted at throughout.

Overall, I really just didn’t enjoy reading this novel, I found it incredibly boring and tedious. Treadway overplays her characterisation of Hanna and underplays Dawn’s descent into madness, and puts all of that in a mundane and frustrating setting that really has nothing to it. Would not read this author again.

After I’ve Gone, Linda Green

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The Premise

Jess Mount is a normal woman, with a job, a best friend and some sadness and secrets in her past, until the day she meets Lee. Lee sweeps her off her feet, taking her out for new experiences and adventures and showing her the life she could have. On the day she meets him, her facebook feed starts showing up posts mourning her death… 18 months in the future. Can Jess change the future without jeopardising her relationship with Lee, and the son they will have together? Or are some things guaranteed to happen?

The Verdict – CAUTION WILL IMMEDIATELY CONTAIN SPOILERS

The blurb and premise of this novel are intriguing and Green attempts to hold this throughout the novel, staying true to the framework she has decided to write in. That said, the fascinating literary device of seeing your future on facebook, is not used to its fullest potential. In those blasted book club questions at the back of the book (which always wind me up), the first one queries ‘Does it matter that you never find out how or if the facebook posts are sent from the future?’. Yes, actually, I think it does. This was a really interesting idea that was undermined by constant reference to Jess’ mental state and really under explained and over exploited. Green over stretches herself by showing three timelines – past Jess, present Jess and future facebook Jess. The past Jess wasn’t actually necessary – what those sections told us, we could have worked out, or could have been better ingrained into the main narrative. The facebook posts were interesting and key to the progress of the story, but they were essentially ignored in the conclusion and that was really frustrating.

That said, there is possibly more depth to it than that. Perhaps the facebook posts are a delusion. Jess meets Lee and they immediately strike up a very intense relationship. Perhaps her subconscious mind has judged him correctly immediately (here I will spoil the plot and reveal that Lee is abusive) and is trying to protect Jess from the harm that it recognises that Lee can cause. In that case it could be an interesting pyschoanalytical tool – the posts do reveal new information as Jess learns it (for example, the first post that mentions Emma, Lee’s ex, happens after Jess hears her name from his mother). Jess’ mind is taking the information given to her in the real world and is translating it into a warning.

However, the facebook page becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Jess only says yes to Lee’s proposal of marriage (which is very early in their relationship) BECAUSE the facebook pages have shown that they get married. She allows them to guide her decisions, which really just doesn’t work and is very frustrating. Jess makes one effort to change her future, by deciding to wear a different wedding dress, and gives up the moment this doesn’t work out. Jess stops making her own choices long before Lee’s true character comes to light because of what she has read on the facebook page and because there is no satisfactory explanation of the delusion, or posts, this is inconsistent with the narrative.

Harsh criticism aside, Green really portrays the early stages of an abusive relationship with emotional power. Lee’s actions – taking Jess on a surprise trip, proposing after a few months, buying her clothes etc. – all come across as relatively romantic, but with hindsight demonstrate a controlling and demanding personality. This was especially poignant when Jess has agreed to go to her best friends sister’s birthday party and can’t spend her one evening off with Lee. Instead of going to the party, Lee appears with an offer Jess can’t turn down, bribing her with gifts, sex and a work meal to go out with him instead of her friend. This is in the early stages of the relationship and represents the isolation that Lee is determined Jess needs from her social circles. It is later echoed when he doesn’t allow Jess to attend her mother’s grave on Christmas day. What Green captures especially well is the abuse before it becomes physical. We only see Lee hit Jess once, and that’s enough for her – she decides to leave because she knows what is coming. Prior to that, she has had all the evidence before her in the facebook posts, which she truly believes in, and has not managed to leave. She keeps making excuses for Lee, hoping that he will be different when their married, or when their son is born. Having never been in an abusive relationship, I can’t say for certain, but from what I understand, this is a common mindset – especially when Lee is apologetic and spoils her after his outbursts.

I was infuriated by Angela’s comment towards the end of the novel when Jess tells her that Lee hit her: ‘yes, but he hated himself for it’. Throughout the novel, Angela is so desperate to be with her grandson that she puts Jess’ life at risk, even physically assaulting her. She claims that Lee hated himself for hitting Jessica, however, this is a symptom of the abuser. We know from Emma’s earlier testimony (through the facebook posts) that he hit her and the first time he was apologetic afterwards. Despite finally seeing the habit has passed from father to son, Angela is still in denial and still eager to protect her son from what he has done. I felt like this undermined the progression Angela had made, and did not bode well for any of Lee’s future relationships.

Overall it was an intriguing premise which didn’t live up to expectations. I feel like the novel was powerful enough in its portrayal of domestic abuse, without having to use a gimmick to draw the reader’s interest initially. I have mixed feelings over whether I’d read a Linda Green book again – I wouldn’t not pick it up but I certainly shan’t be looking for it.