Ouf: Niwa. L’âge des méchancetés* has proven, unsurprisingly, to be emotionally difficult to confront, and I’m sure it’s only going to get more so. The short novel shocked elder-honoring Japan when it was released in the late 1940s, telling as it does the tale of a group of sisters trying to pawn off their eighty-six-year-old grandmother on each other, and not being at all delicate with or to her, talking smack to her face and hauling her around like a sack of garbage.
It’s difficult to read about or see anyone being mistreated– but there’s something about sad, and especially sad and abused, old people that smashes me to pieces. Maybe part of that reaction has to do with the fact of something We normally take great pains not to acknowledge– namely, the devaluation of the elderly– being put undeniably out in the open, and presented in a way that forces Us to admit to our own complicity, if only of sentiment, in the situation. How could someone not get annoyed, for example, at another person whining out unanswerable questions in the middle of the night, or needing to be carried from one place to another, even if that person isn’t in control of her faculties, and so isn’t at fault for doing the irritating things she does? And how can we not be infuriated with ourselves for our own impatient reactions when dealing with such an individual, an individual who once was not like this, and who took care of us, turning the tables on us without so much as asking our opinion about the matter?
I’ll give it to him: Niwa was unafraid of bringing a whole slew of resentments and bad behavior out into the open, not preaching about anything (so far) while also making it difficult to take the old woman’s side completely (again, so far) in this story. At this point, I’ll describe the project thus: an honest, talented author taking on a difficult, taboo subject. How could it not be uncomfortable– but also, and probably at least partially because of its until-then-unthinkable ponderings, incredibly appealing?
* An out-of-print English translation, The Hateful Age, exists somewhere, but for a price too inhibitive to make it worth purchasing.