Sunday, November 19, 2017

Our Dirty Glass Castles

photo by Amy Brandon
 
"Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?"
~Miss Kenton in The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a beautiful introspectively retrospective novel, but I must admit I had a bipolar relationship with it.  For a while, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to finish it.  The entire novel is a narration of the past by Stevens the Butler, who is the opposite of woke.  I found myself losing patience with his cluelessness and his repression on more than one occasion. Steven’s memory is so colored and re-cast that much of it has become fallacy, a narrative he tells himself as a comfort, as a justification, sometimes almost a celebration, of his existence.  Instead of seeing things as they were, he assauges his own doubts by casting them in a muted, better light, which apparently was his habit throughout his life. Do we all do this, I wonder?  I suppose to an extent, we do.  I suspect forgiveness itself hinges somewhat on being able to forget or at least to temper our memories. How much do any of us have to find a way to excuse and/or justify the choices we have made over a lifetime?  This theme harks back to The Buried Giant, also by Kazuo Ishiguro, where a collective memory wipe was necessary for a group of people to live in peace. 
 
Poor Stevens works so hard to cast his father in the light of the ever-illusive patriarchal perfection and then strives his whole life to live up to the unattainable, imagined standard of a long-dead father. Eventually, Stevens ingratiated himself with me, and I found myself feeling sorry for him, in his bumbling cluelessness, as I often tend to do with bumbling, clueless people in real life.  But now I begin to wonder how much that kind of permissive, maternal sympathy is to blame for the liberal latitudes men have been allowed for centuries? It brings to mind the sociological issue of raising our daughters and loving our sons.  Men like Stevens the Butler want to live in a bubble, and they want the people around them to help them maintain that bubble.  When someone begins to prod at the flimsy walls of self-deception they’ve constructed, they shut down, run away, or lash out.  They use cluelessness or repression or denial or privilege or some combination of these defenses (See Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK) to maintain their slick glass castles in the air, never bothering to look down to see the earth at their feet, where the rest of us stand bearing the burden of their fallacious facades.
 
The Remains of the Day  won me over eventually, and I have now come to miss the voice of Stevens the Butler, but I don't miss his infuriating habit of obsessing on all the wrong things or his constant attempts to justify and explain his past.


 
 

9 comments:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Isn't that what Facebook and (oh dear) our blogs do for us? Enable us to cast ourselves in the light we wish to see ourselves in? Or maybe that's just me.

I loved this character because he felt so true to me. This is a book I think I might read again before I head out of this world.

https://readerbuzz.blogspot.com/2017/11/its-finally-fall-breakand-im-sickagain.html

Brywn said...

Just wanted to comment that I always enjoy your short, lyrical posts. They always make me reflect.

Care said...

The movie was SO well cast. I won't reread the book but I might watch the film again. Great post.

Amy said...

Deb...After I wrote this, I felt like I may have been a little too harsh on Stevens. He's just not a character I identified with at all, and I am truly losing patience with men's voices right now. Possibly I should just be reading women until I get over that.

Brywn...Thank you so much. I often wonder if what I'm doing speaks to anyone except me, so that is definitely empowering to hear.

Care...I agree. The movie was fantastic. I miss you!

Anne Bennett said...

I've not read the book but I did watch the movie and remembered it as moving slowly.

Harvee Lau said...

The butler is such a tragic figure, I felt. I didn't read the book, but saw the movie.

Kristen said...

I know I read this once upon a time but other than remembering that I found it slower than I had hoped, I honestly don't remember much about it. The Buried Giant is my book club's book for this month so I guess I'll be revisiting Ishiguro soon.

thecuecard said...

Hi Sadie: I read the book & saw the movie quite a long time ago. And what I recall is that the butler is indeed infuriating -- he misses his opportunities at life & love -- because he's just too dutiful. & he won't take a stand on things he hears or sees that are wrong, which make you want to throttle him. It's a sad ending too. But it's a book I probably need to re-read to jog my full memory of it. ps. glad to see you are blogging again regularly / i enjoy your posts & will visit more now

Amy said...

Hi Susan...that is exactly what I felt about Stevens. I think what made me the angriest is that his refusal to grasp life costs others as well as him, which is just unfortunate. I had more patience with him in the movie than in the book; I assume due to personal time invested.

I hope to stick to blogging more regularly now. Thanks for visiting!

Why Read?

  "I was gradually getting used to feeling the range of available human emotions, their intensity, the rapidity with which they co...