|photo by Amy Brandon|
~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.