2002/12/05

The brilliance of Ishiguro: to take a flawed character who does terrible things not out of villainy but simple weakness and make him sympathetic. My generalizations about WWII are due to my world history and English teachers.

[The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro]

I finished The Remains of the Day, the Ishiguro book, and it was really wonderful. I think Ishiguro did continue with his “can you trust the narrator?” tactics, but it was more along the lines of self-delusion in memories, in order to forget what you don’t want to remember. But what really struck me was this sorrow that pervades the entire story, the butler who is desperately trying to convince himself that his life of service to Lord Darlington was worthy of “dignity.” It was rather beautiful, especially at the end, when he finally is able to admit what he refused to admit before and then achieves a kind of peace with himself. I suppose to someone else, it could seem a bit sappy, and perhaps even transparent, but I thought it was so elegantly done. Really beautiful, liked it even more than When We Were Orphans.

It’s true though, not simply for this butler or those of his social standing in England. World War II was horribly devastating, the end of idealism, the huge turning point for Western civilization (and I suppose the rest of the world as well). World War I was pretty awful too, but I think it was World War II that broke the Western world’s original faith in man, that repudiated any belief in humanism. Admittedly, the trend had started before the war (thinking Freud and Darwin, of course), but somehow the sheer brutality of that war made it real. Suddenly, we weren’t anymore the enlightened rational beings that we wanted to be. The advent of our postmodern cynicism, I suppose. But growing up in the world of my parents, who were born during this turning point, I can’t help sharing the old butler’s nostalgia and bewilderment.