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From John Le Carré's Smiley's People:

Till today again, when they were back. Except that today was about fifty thousand times worse, because today was now, and the street today was as empty as on the last day or the first, and the man who was five metres behind her was drawing closer, and the man who had been under Mercier’s outrageously dangerous awning was crossing the street to join him.

So the last/first day of what? Does it mean the end of the world and the day man was created by God? Or does it simply mean the street was consistently empty?

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  • I think there is a time sequence earlier in the book. I glanced through a couple of pages farther back and they do mention "four weeks since she had received her little Estonian confessor" and there is also a period of one week. The answer lies somewhere there but I can't keep trying to scroll through the book via google books.
    – Lambie
    May 15 at 13:22

2 Answers 2

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+50

Well, sort of, the author IS trying to say "consistently empty" but with more feeling. What the author means by the last day is not very clear, but let's say the "last day" was March 5th or something (Just a example) from the very first day to the "last day" that street has been empty.

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Your first interpretation would seem to be correct: that the street is as empty as on the day of creation and as on the last day of the world.

The author is attempting to set up dramatic hyperbole: Ostrakova is in danger, and the passage is designed to heighten that feeling of danger. Assailants are coming for Ostrakova and there is no-one around to help her, or even cry out to. By making the statement of emptiness using an extreme statement, it helps us to feel the extremity of Ostrakova's plight and terror.

You can imagine a similar effect from the "outrageously dangerous" awning. However unsafe, an awning is unlikely to merit quite that level of warning.

Trying to parse the line in the sense of it being "consistently empty" is a bit of a struggle. I can see how it might be read, but in that case why would the passage direct us to the "first" day of the street, the day it opened and on which one might imagine its novelty might actually make it quite busy? And even if it could be read that way, that's a secondary consideration. What's important is that it's empty now at the moment of the assault, and the passage is constructed to inspire the same extreme feelings in the reader as might be imagined in the protagonist.

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