Patience is a virtue?

Early on in The Queue, while Vadim (our focal character) and Lena (his first girlfriend) wait, buses arrive and unload a stream of people who head straight to the front of the line. Our part of the queue gets pretty irate, trying to figure out what is going on, hoping the police guarding the queue will stop these people from jumping the line. Instead:

—CITIZENS! CAN YOU PLEASE BE QUIET!
—We weren’t making any noise…
—Why’ve they pushed in?
—And who the hell are they, can he explain!
—CAN YOU PLEASE BE QUIET! THESE COMRADES HAVE THE RIGHT TO RECEIVE GOODS WITHOUT QUEUING! SO PLEASE KEEP QUIET AND STAY CALM!
—Who’s that?
—And who on earth are they!?
—This is disgraceful!
—What about us?!
—I REPEAT! WOULD YOU PLEASE BE QUIET AND KEEP ORDER! THE COMRADES WHO HAVE COME IN THE BUSES HAVE THE RIGHT TO BUY WITHOUT QUEUING!
—And what about us?!
—Why do they have the right?
—I also have the right!
—The sods!
—We’ve waited and waited and now look!
—What a disgrace!
—FOR THE THIRD TIME I REPEAT! THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO BUY WITHOUT QUEUING! WOULD YOU PLEASE BE QUIET! KEEP ORDER! OTHERWISE YOU’LL BE TAKEN OUT OF THE QUEUE!
—So it’s us they’re going to take away! Idiot…

I suppose the queuers know better than to start a riot, but the injustice… Anyway, our poor guy, Vadim, valiantly waits, even overnight, even through over 20 pages of roll calls, until finally a downpour begins and he’s soaked through. He finds refuge in a woman’s apartment nearby. And I do mean refuge. But then he realizes he’s missed the next roll call! Lyuda reassures him:

—You’re not late for anything.
—Why not?
—Because we’re not selling today.
—Who’s we?
—Us. The workers at the Moskva stores.
—What’s the Moskva stores got to do with it?
—What it’s got to do with is that we organised the sale…ooooaawaah…and today we’ve got stock-taking in every department…
—So?
—So nothing. Go to sleep. And the day after tomorrow I’ll take you to the depot and you’ll get to choose whichever you want…

—What about the queue? I don’t understand…there are people queuing out there….
—So let them queue. They’ll have to wait till the day after tomorrow.
—What, do you…d’you have something to do with the queue then?

I thought Vadim’s horror at this would send him running to get dressed and get away from this evil woman but…he listens to her and lies back down and goes back to sleep, with the woman who’s getting out of stock-taking by taking pretend sick leave and saying “let them stew in their own juice.” It’s that oneiric slumber again. Creative destruction is scary, but my god, hell really is other people (sometimes, at least).

I mentioned above some 20 pages of roll calls, and that’s really the most effective thing about this novel: the way the structure makes the reader live through the queue itself. “—Likhanov! —Yes! —Mikhailova! —Yes!” over and over. Vadim and Lyuda have sex and we have page after page of “—Ha! —Ah. —Ha! —Aaaah…oh…” Also blank pages for sleepytime. It’s all well done, and you get so into the atmosphere that it doesn’t feel at all gimmicky or annoyingly “pomo.” It just feels long and winding and meandering and a little horrifyingly futile by the end. But in a good way.

2 comments to Patience is a virtue?

  • The “page after page” of “ha”s and “ah”s seems a bit… odd. Though I guess it could probably add a lot to the mood of such a story. I’m really impressed by these quotes, though. It’s not as difficult as I thought to keep track of the conversation. And anything described as “horrifyingly futile in a good way” must indeed be read.

  • nicole

    To your last point: exactly my philosophy!

    To your first point: yes, it is really about mood. Obviously you don’t need to read every word–or do more than flip quickly through the blank pages, and the pages of roll call, just noting how many there are.

    I think, in fact, I would recommend this to just about anyone, as it is nontraditional but so easily understood as all the nontraditional bits add up to a very effective and easily understood mood.

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