Books I wish I hadn’t read: Perfume by Patrick Suskind

perfume   Some of my friends raved about this book in the late 80s and 90s. When I scanned through the reviews of it on Goodreads, I found that most of them also rave about it. It’s a book I wish I hadn’t read. It won’t be added to my store of literary treasures. It is a story of an abominable man, born without a smell of his own and gifted with a super-human sense of smell. The first quality makes him less than human, ignored, abandoned as a baby, growing up by his own cunning and will to survive, without loving or being loved. The second quality makes him more than human, for he is gifted with the ability, honed over many years, to capture and recreate the essences of things and people. He uses this ability to disguise himself when convenient, and to pursue his lust for capturing essential fragrances, especially of young, beautiful, virginal girls. This ability pits him against the mass of humanity, in a time (the eighteenth century) when stenches reign the cities, and underlying them all is the stench of death and decay. This is an entropic world, where all things and all beings lust for life but the inevitable end for all is death and decay. The anti-hero, Grenouille, achieves his greatest desire, to be worshipped for his self-creation as a divinely perfumed being. This after a chain of murders of beautiful virgins. His triumph is hollow, because he cannot enjoy his transformation. His disgust for humankind means that he lacks the ability to love, and can only hate those who believe they love him.

The writer asks a lot of his readers. We are subjected to page after page of detailed descriptions, of smells, of the process of extracting smells, of Grenouille’s thought processes and actions in perpetrating his fantasies of transformation. What is left, when he is finally destroyed by a group orgy of cannibalism (no apology for spoiler here), is the grotesque proposition that the act of dismemberment and consumption is an act of Love. In effect, any moral that this story carries is destroyed by this ending. Even Love is corrupted by desire for possession and incorporation of what is essentially (no pun intended) a false, corrupt, evil beauty.

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romance and realism: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

I love Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing. One of my all time favourites is North and South, and the BBC dramatisation of it is superb. A great favourite when I was much younger is Cranford; I still return to this one, a lovely, gentle satire of a village inhabited mostly by women, nearly all single — “Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears…”. To find out why, read the book, an early feminist novel.

But to the book in hand.

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The only reason I haven’t given it five stars is that it is unfinished, and the last chapter, written by Frederick Greenwood, her editor, sketches the ending according to what he knew of her intentions. In the dramatisation, an alternative ending is given, more satisfying, perhaps more wish fulfilling, a neat tying of the knot between the heroine and her lover, but not what the author intended. So I ended the book with an unfinished feeling, wishing that Gaskell had lived  to put the last touches to this vivid tale of middle class life in a Midlands town, ‘”an everyday story”, as the subtitle puts it. Everyday for those times, when a lady didn’t work, and her status was determined by her husband’s or father’s profession or rank, her breeding, her manners, her looks, and how many servants did the every day chores and oiled the wheels of everyday life.

For plot, the main theme is the ambiguous position of a middle aged doctor, a widow, bringing up his daughter Molly; he has managed successfully so far, and both father and daughter are very happy in their menage a deux, but when Molly enters her teens, and the young apprentice doctor in his household develops a crush on her, Mr Gibson becomes aware that he needs a wife, to bring his daughter to adulthood in a respectable way and protect her from the seductive arts of young men. For Molly is beautiful, with curly dark hair, grey eyes, and a charming gravity, intelligence and truthfulness, free of coquettish vanity. So Mr Gibson, by a circuitous route, chooses a widow, Hyacinth, charming, pretty, vivacious, and shallow. She is not an evil stepmother, but she is narcissistic, superficial and pretentious, and Mr Gibson soon realises that he has made a poor choice. But appearances are kept up. Molly, equally clear-sighted as her father, sees through her stepmother too, and longs for the days when it was just the two of them, in perfect sympathy, when her father’s favourite lunch of bread and cheese on a working day wasn’t forbidden as vulgar, when he could wear his slippers in the drawing room every evening he stayed quietly at home, when she could ride her pony along the lanes with him… when life was simple and homely and not complicated by keeping up appearances. The old, instinctive, father-daughter bond, later theorised by Freud as innately incestuous, is disrupted by the father’s marriage, and has to become covert and constrained, much to Molly’s grief. Freud would have had a party with this plot.

To complicate things and triangulate them even further, Hyacinth has a daughter the same age as Molly, whom she has kept at arm’s length, at boarding school, of whom she is both proud and jealous, and who comes to live in the new blended family. Cynthia is more beautiful than Molly, but less grounded in her character; her difficult childhood and lack of emotional support from her mother has left her with a fatal inability to feel deeply for anyone. Except Molly, whom she comes to love, and Mr Gibson, whom she says she likes and admires more than any man she has known. If only, it is implied, she had had such a childhood as Molly has had, she would be worthy of her beauty. But she is a flirt and a jilt, attracts the devotion of Roger, the man that Molly has secretly fallen in love with, while she is still entangled in a relationship formed when she was only 16. Molly discovers her secret and rescues her from what has become a trap, and Cynthia ends up breaking off the engagement to Roger and marrying a more ‘suitable’ man, one with wealth, ambition and pzazz.

And more. I always struggle to summarise a plot. There are many minor characters, all vividly drawn, and in the end (without an ending) Molly seems likely to get what she deserves, marriage to the man who is her moral, mental and emotional match. So it’s a traditional romantic plot. What makes it delightful and profound is the delicate irony with which characters are sketched; all are rounded, realised in vivid detail, even the minor ones, and the main characters are complex and fallible.

It is a perfect harmony of romance and realism. The gentle mastery of dialogue never fails. So, for example, when the new bride, Hyacinth, returns from her honeymoon with Mr Gibson, Molly leads her upstairs to the newly-furnished bedroom, and Hyacinth says:

“Now, my love, we can embrace each other in peace. Oh dear, how tired I am!” — after the embrace had been accomplished). ” My spirits are easily affected with fatigue; but your dear papa has been kindness itself. Dear! What an old-fashioned bed! And what a — but it doesn’t signify. By-and-by we’ll renovate the house — won’t we, my dear? And you’ll be my little maid tonight, and help me to arrange a few things, for I’m just worn out with the day’s journey.”

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Of time and space and the universe

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A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (first edition, published 1988)

I read this book years ago, and didn’t understand it. Recently, I saw the wonderful film, The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as Stephen and his wife Jane.

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I was aware, when I saw it, that it sanitised Hawking’s relationship with his wife, and glossed over his affair with the nurse who was to become his second wife. But the acting was superb, and it was a moving and fascinating portrayal of an extraordinary man and his remarkable wife. So I was inspired to return to A Brief History of Time, to see if I understand it any better.

Reader, I don’t. But I am persevering. Bits of it make sense to me, and I am hoping that somehow, by osmosis, it is seeping into my understanding. He seems to be circling round the question of whether there was/is a creator of the universe or not, and I get the feeling he’s working his way to a no. His mind is fascinating, not just because of his brilliant theoretical intelligence, but because he is good at constructing an argument by looking at all the possible answers and then ruling them out, one by one, until he arrives at what he considers the best fitting hypothesis to the mystery of why we are here and how the world was made. I suspect that in the end I will feel as much of a vacuum as I did when I watched his series on the universe (with voiceover by Benedict Cumberbatch) on SBS. When I watched that, it was much more obvious that he was seeking to disprove the existence of a creator or the possibility of life after death. I kept wanting to say ‘but….’.

The other thing that fascinates me about him is his relationship with his first wife. I read her biography, Travelling to Infinity, which is beautifully written and gives us some of the substance of his material and emotional life, which tends to be overlooked when one travels through space and time with his almost disembodied mind, and of her struggles to create a family life revolving around him without being sucked into a black hole.

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An almost impossible task, for his intelligence is forensic and relentless. It is as if the increasing paralysis of his body, his matter, has allowed the enormous energy of his mind to expand, just like the universe he describes. E = mc2. Jane had to separate from him and create her own life, rather than being the moon to his earth.

The next book on my list of re-reads is Paul Davies’ God and the New Physics, written in the same era as A Brief History of Time. I’m hoping he will give me some substance for my conversations about matter and spirit. I”m also going to read Hawking’s memoir, My Brief History, for I”m curious to know about his life from his point of view.

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Of food for the planet and for our plates

TheThirdPlate_JKFThe Third Plate by Dan Barber is a book that explores and celebrates a revolutionary way of growing food and of cooking and eating it . Revolutionary, yet old. Perhaps many of our revolutions are that, when you consider the etymology of the word, from the Latin, revolvere, ‘roll back’.

Dan Barber is “the Chef of Blue Hill, a restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture.” He is renowned and awarded as a chef, and The Third Plate is on the New York Times bestseller list.

First, an explanation of the title, from the New York Times review:

This cryptic title alludes to Mr. Barber’s whimsical response when a magazine asked him to show, in a sketch, what Americans would be eating in 35 years. Mr. Barber drew three plates illustrating the recent evolution of the American diet.

The first showed a seven-ounce corn-fed steak with steamed baby carrots. The second reflected the farm-to-table values that Mr. Barber has championed for years, with grass-fed steak and heirloom carrots grown in organic soil. The third plate, a look into the future, offered a slab of carrot “steak” with a sauce of braised second cuts of beef.

The dominance of vegetable rather than meat, and the emphasis on using all the parts of an animal, not just the prime ones, are clues to this way of producing food, where animals are adjunct to growing grains and vegetables, rather than the top of the hierarchy, and the balance of nature is respected. Here is an excerpt from the book’s web page:

While the ‘third plate’ is a novelty in America, Barber demonstrates that this way of eating is rooted in worldwide tradition. He explores the time-honored farming practices of the southern Spanish dehesa, producing high-grade olives, acorns, cork, wool, and the renowned jamón ibérico. Off the Straits of Gibraltar, Barber investigates the future of seafood through a revolutionary aquaculture operation and an ancient tuna-fishing ritual. In upstate New York, Barber learns from a flourishing mixed-crop farm whose innovative organic practices have revived the land and resurrected an industry. And in Washington State he works with cutting-edge seedsmen developing new varieties of grain in collaboration with local bakers, millers, and malt makers. Drawing on the wisdom and experience of chefs and farmers from around the world, Barber builds a dazzling panorama of ethical and flavorful eating destined to refashion Americans’ deepest beliefs about food.

The title is a criticism of his own practice as a chef, and that of the farm-to-table practice that has become the catchword for alternative food production and eating (away from processed, packaged, imported foods, chemically grown and genetically altered, machine-processed, denatured, altered, sterilised, lifeless…). Farm to table has moved to grass fed, free range, organic, heirloom varieties, locally grown where possible. All good, but not good enough, according to Barber, for this reason:

“The larger problem, as I came to see it, was that farm-to-table allows, even celebrates, a kind of cherry-picking of ingredients that are often ecologically demanding and expensive to grow.”

So Barber set out on a quest, which took him to Spain, where a radical farmer raises wild geese who graze at will on local acorns; happy, relaxed birds, the farmer swears, produce fatty livers; in contrast to the force-fed geese of France. Barber attests that the wild geese livers’ flavour far outstrips that of the artificially fed geese. Also in Spain, a seafood chef converts him to cooking and eating lesser fish than the endangered bluefin tuna and sea bass, and parts of them normally thrown away. As for grains, Barber devotes  a lot of text to wheat, and discovers that wheat grown as a monoculture, bred to increase yield and milled to produce stable white flour that can be stored for long periods and shipped long distances, by stripping it of the germ and bran, has resulted in a product lacking in flavour and nutrition; efficient, but lacking the germ, “the vital, living element of wheat and the bran”, an essential source of fibre. Barber explores the qualities of ancient strains of wheat, like emmer and spelt, grown in synergy with grains like oats, rye and barley, and discovers the promise of a renaissance in locally grown grain, grown in small amounts as part of crop rotations, a middle way that combines heirloom varieties (high in flavour but low in yield) with improved modern, regional varieties that are selected for disease resistance and flavour.

And so the story goes on, weaving together dozens of smaller stories, yarns with passionate, pragmatic farmers and experimenters who have in common a passion for the land, for nature’s diversity, and the joys of producing and eating fresh flavourful food. Barber is a great story teller, and engages with colourful, eccentric characters who could talk the leg off an old iron pot. The story is masterfully told, and one can take from it some inspiration and hope for ways of growing and preparing food that don’t destroy the nature that feeds us. Yet, as his New York Times reviewer points out, he is “up against the massed armies of modern agribusiness” like Monsanto and the commercial interests of the industries of farming and fishing that are working to deplete and exhaust, perhaps extinguish, the life forms we depend on.

What the book advocates is no simple solution. It is a way of producing food and preparing and eating it that respects the food’s origins and the connection of all life. As diners, we should accept what our local environment offers us, not demand food out of season and out of place, like oranges from California or frozen berry fruits from China. His emphasis, as a chef and restaurateur, is on cuisine, but one can step back from the end result, the plate, and look at the process, and apply it to the way we produce food, or, if we don’t own a garden or plot of land, to the way we shop for it. Looking for wholeness, for vitality, for diversity not sameness, for freshness and flavour, not cheapness and reliability. A way of living that honours agriculture that’s in harmony with nature and uses the by-products of a plant or an animal rather than discarding them. A revolution, which is in some ways, a return to the way our ancestors grew and ate food.

A good read, and an important book which is sure to spawn many conversations and inspire some changes in the way we live.

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Memoirs of oppressed minorities: Still a Pygmy by Isaac Bacirongo and Michael Nest

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at 4.26.33 pm Still a Pygmy is Isaac Bacirongo’s memoir, co-written with Michael Nest. It is a remarkable story, the first memoir by a Pygmy author ever published. Isaac is a BaTembo Pygmy who grew up with his family in the forests of the Congo, where Pygmies have been regarded as an inferior race for centuries, and have tried to keep their identities secret to avoid oppression. But how, you might ask, have they been able to do this, given their short stature? this was certainly the question uppermost in my mind when I began reading the book. I didn’t find a direct answer, perhaps because to Isaac, his stature is not the most distinctive thing about his identity. Before I review his story, I’d like to address the stature question. An article dated August 2014 in National Geographic tells me that the pygmy phenotype is controlled by genetics.

Both the Batwa people in the east and the Baka in the west are commonly referred to as pygmies….

When the researchers looked more closely, they found that these genetic differences weren’t just random chance …  [that is] that the first Batwa and Baka people just happened to be short. Instead, these genetic differences were somehow benefiting the individuals living in these rain forest environments. It’s an example of convergent evolution, Barreiro says, in that the same trait (short stature) evolved independently in several different populations.

When they looked at when these mutations might have happened, Barreiro and colleagues found that they were relatively recent events, having occurred separately in both the Batwa and the Baka. This showed that whatever factors were selecting for short stature were fairly strong and could exert their effects relatively quickly.

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The answer, then, remains indefinite. One can only surmise what it means to a Pygmy who adapts to living a settled rural or urban life, to be significantly shorter than the average. I think the fact that Isaac does not reflect on this in his memoir is interesting; it was, it seems, the least of his worries. The sub-title of his book is ‘The unique memoir of one man’s fight to save his identity from extinction’. Identity, for Isaac, is not expressed in terms of physical appearance. The things that were important to him, as he emerged from the simple forest life, were education, independence from familial and tribal expectations, and the opportunity to create a stable and prosperous family life for himself and his wife and 10 children. A thoroughly ‘modern’ man, in fact. His life moved from the familial focus on gathering food to one on jobs and education. Goals that are little different from those held in common in much of the world.

Isaac emerges from the story as a strong personality, one who has taken many risks in his life, who has made choices that went against the culture of his family and tribe. Such as choosing a wife who was a town girl, who, complained Isaac’s mother, wouldn’t be able to catch fish or collect firewood; she therefore hired successive witchdoctors to try and kill her (unsuccessfully). Before he made this daring choice, Isaac had put himself through school; he was the only one in his family to get an education. It didn’t come easily; he was supported by a kindly professor for a time, but when his benefactor became ill, Isaac was unable to repay him for his board, because when he went home hoping to sell his chickens, he found only a handful left. His family had eaten the eggs and some of the chickens. After year 10 he was forced to drop out of school and work as a primary teacher; then he started a small business, selling banana wine, but this was not enough to keep a wife and family. After he married his wife Josephine, he saved enough to buy some land and build a house, and diversified his business. There was money to be made selling pharmaceuticals, which were in short supply and expensive. He sold them illegally, and managed to keep trading by bribing the officials. And so he went on, practising as ethically as he could in Mobotu’s corrupt regime, where restrictions were circumvented by bribery.

One good thing that Mobutu did was to declare that Pygmies were citizens, although they weren’t officially recognised until the mid-1970s (cf. our own Aborigines). However, Mobutu did nothing to improve or change the way Pygmies were disadvantaged. When the economy collapsed under his rule in the 1980s, life  became more and more difficult. Mobutu had passed a decree that he would reign as president for ever. When Isaac had an argument with his neighbour, declaring this was idolatry, he was reported to the secret police and arrested, beaten and confined to a cell 50 by 50 centimetres wide. He was freed as ‘an irrelevant Pygmy’ and returned to his entrepreneurial life. Despite all the challenges, he was successful in feeding and educating his large family. But the Mobutu regime, under international pressure to democratise government, became more violent and lawless, and neighbouring Rwanda’s racial conflicts were spilling over into the Congo, with Tutsi refugees’ attempt to go back to Rwanda by force erupting into the Rwandan genocide which started in April 1994.

Isaac and his co-writer narrate all these events in a straightforward, readable prose that keeps you turning the pages. The motivations for reading this book will be curiosity, the desire to understand how it feels to be of a minority race trying to fit in in the modern world, without losing your identity and self-esteem, and what it meant to live in countries like the Congo in the late 20th century.

In brief, this fascinating story takes us with Isaac and his family as he became an activist for Pygmy rights to education and pride of citizenship; he even joined in writing a history of his people. The new Rwandan Tutsi regime invaded the Congo, there were massacres, Isaac was arrested again, and the decision was made to flee. He and his family were refugees in Uganda, where Isaac worked for a while as an interpreter on a corruption investigation into the UN-HCR. Granted a humanitarian visa, Isaac and his family resettled in Sydney.

It would be lovely to say that his expectations of paradise were met. Sadly, though he and his wife have managed to buy a house and educate their children, life has been fraught by problems of teenage rebellion, the mental illness and death of one of the children, and Isaac’s difficulties in finding a job that recognises his immensely varied skills, compounded by his worries about the suffering of his people back home. One can only congratulate Isaac for his bravery, determination and resourcefulness, and the wisdom of his closing words:

We are all human and you are just like me. What we have in common is the capacity for thinking. There are always things I can do that you can’t do, but we all have the ability to learn. What we have in common is the aspiration to discover new things in life.

It is humbling and inspiring to read this story of courage and intelligence and fidelity to humanitarian values, and I want to congratulate Isaac and his co-writer Michael Nest, and Finch Publishing for their publication.

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Pompeii by Robert Harris

I got this book from the library when I went to reserve Enigma by the same author — a fictional biography of Alan Turing, the genius who led the team that cracked the Nazi naval code. I want to find out more about this enigmatic man and his life which ended in tragedy, after seeing the powerful film, The Imitation Game, with that flavour-of-the year actor, Benedict Cumberbatch,  in it.

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I don’t read much historical fiction, though I was so impressed by Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies and Wolf Hall that I read them twice, almost without stopping. They are very literary in their construction, in that the narrative voice and the characters are finely tuned and vividly imagined.

Pompeii is fiction of a different order. It is plot driven, and the characters are sketched in with light strokes, rather black and white. The hero, Attilius, is the water engineer or Aquarius who sets out to solve the mystery of the failure of fresh water springs in nine towns around the bay of Naples. The chief villain is the wealthy and corrupt ex-slave Ampliatus, who runs Pompeii and owns most of the property. Most of the minor characters are either venal and corrupt or weak, apart from the lower classes, slaves and workmen, who are undefined outside of their labour. There is a love theme, but it is in a minor chord, though it becomes Attilius’s main motivation once he has accepted the inevitability of the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of the towns and most of the population. Corelia is the good, brave and beautiful daughter of Ampliatus, and we are left uncertain whether she and Attilius escape the cataclysmic destruction of raining ash, pumice, rocks and fire that engulfs most of the populace and the buildings.

The ending, of course, apart from this nuance, is inevitable, so the action plot’s main tension is in wondering when the eruption will happen, and whether the central characters will escape against all odds. For those with a curiosity about the destruction of this part of Roman civilisation in 79 AD, and an interest in the science of vulcanology, there is much to enjoy in this book. Harris is able to weave factual details and physical action into his story while keeping up the momentum and the suspense. It kept me turning the pages, though I had little interest in the epigraphs from vulcanological treatises at the beginning of each chapter. It was certainly good enough to sustain my motivation to read Enigma.

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Revisiting classics: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

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I confess I haven’t read this book till a couple of weeks ago, even though it was published in 1989 and awarded the Booker Prize, and made into a highly acclaimed Merchant Ivory film in 1993 (which I did see).

When I started to read it, I wondered if I would persist. I was bored and felt stifled by the monologue of Steven the butler, the narrowness of his outlook, the snobbery of his perception of self and the wealthy and privileged men he worked for, his emotional repression and self-denial, the self-importance of his definition of himself through his position, his aspiration to be “a great butler”, undermined by his fear that he is not one; though one wonders if this is false modesty. The one focal point of tension and irony is this very narrowness and fragility of his identity, as he worries about the series of small errors he has made in the last few months, ”all without exception quite trivial in themselves,” and his inability to rise to the banter that his current American employer, Mr Farraday, tries to engage him in. Not only is he lacking in emotional intelligence and empathy, he has no sense of humour. It’s not just a clash of cultures — the English class system with the American brash, practical outlook — it’s Stevens’ lifelong training in self-abnegation and reverence for tradition and “the professional standards” of his position as a butler in a “great house”.

He embarks on an “expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination for some days”, suggested to him by Mr Farraday who is returning to America for a few weeks. Stevens’  purpose is to visit Miss Kenton, who had served as housekeeper in grander days when Lord Darlington was the owner, and who has recently written to him hinting that her marriage is over, and that she is considering returning to the Great House. His ostensible plan is to invite Miss Kenton to return to the much reduced household and help run it. As his trip unfolds, and he ruminates on the past, on his previous master, Lord Darlington’s ambiguous dealings with the Nazi movement prior to World War II, and his own relationship with his father and with Miss Kenton, it becomes clear that this is a voyage of the heart. Clear to the reader, but not to Stevens.

There are a few moments of truth for him, when he is forced to acknowledge his heartbreak on discovering that after all, Miss Kenton has decided to stay in her marriage.

… these implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed — why should I not admit it? — at that moment, my heart was breaking.

But of course, he does not tell her this. Instead, he turns to her with a smile and agrees one cannot turn back the clock, and utters soothing words as they part and her eyes fill with tears.

Another moment of truth is when he acknowledges to a retired butler he falls into conversation with on his return journey, that Lord Darlington

made his own mistakes. … He chose a certain path, it proved to be a mistaken one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really — one has to ask oneself — what dignity is there in that?

Yet, he remains trapped in his own constructed identity as servant:

After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and me, there is little choice other than to leave our fate, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub of this world who employ our services.

Such was his world, and such it remained at the end of the day. Hence his resolve to practice bantering, to please his master. “It occurs to me, furthermore, that bantering is hardly an unreasonable duty for an employer to expect a professional to perform.” He hopes to be able to pleasantly surprise him on his return.

So little change happens. He gives up his constricted dream of a constrained relationship with his ex-housekeeper, returned to her servant position, and resigns himself to learning new ways of performing to please his master.

Why do I resist this book? It’s not just the stifling class and privilege system and the lack of redemption in the ending. Yes, it has irony, it allows us to see, through clever insertions of conversations with others, how limited and starved Stevens’ worldview is. It’s the severe monotony of the narrative, the lengthy disquisitions in stilted prose on the class system et al., the lack of humour, life, passion.

I have read many reviews on Goodreads which rave about this book. Me, I’d rather read Jane Austen any day, if I want an ironic portrayal of privilege, class, romance, heartbreak and pride — and prejudice.

 

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