Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

You want to know how to evaluate the bond of a life-long love? Well, like most great aspects of life, it can be found in a book. Let me explain.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read Richard Price’s “The Whites,” Paula Hawkins’ “The Girl on the Train,” William Gibson’s, “Peripheral,” and David Sedaris’ “When You’re Engulfed in Flames,” and I’m also listening to a Stephen King book. But if you want to know about how to evaluate love, then you need to read Kazoo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant.” I want to focus on Isighuro’s book, because something took place in the novel that has stuck with me since I came across it.

The novel is set in a period of English history that would have been associated with King Arthur. It’s a magical world that blends myth, fantasy, and pieces of history into a journey about a married couple who are looking for their son. In the novel, everyone has a difficult time remembering aspects of their own lives. There is a mist (an almost memory-stealing fog) that pervades the land.

As the married couple is trying to find their son, they encounter a terrible storm. They need to seek shelter. The story structure follows the “hero’s journey” that was made famous by Christopher Vogler in his book, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.” It’s a guide for screenwriters, and it was influenced by the works of Joseph Campbell. If you’ve ever seen any movie, or heard a fascinating tale told over a campfire, then you would recognize the structure Vogler presents.

What is amazing about Ishiguro’s books is not the structure itself, but it’s the way that the structure becomes a vehicle for the voice to tap into a mythic and fantastic world, where dragons, knights, and Sir Gaiwan still exist. But it’s achieved with such artful and tasteful strokes, as if he had found a way to make King Arthur seem more like Game of Thrones…minus the sex and random killings.

Credit Joseph Lapin
Credit Joseph Lapin

So this married couple comes to a shelter in the rain, and inside the shelter, they find a boatman inside. He is on a holiday from his job, which is to take people across the lake to an incredible island. On the island, people walk alone for years. They can hear other people, but they can never find each other. They are doomed to be alone. But certain couples are brought to the island together, and they are allowed to walk in peace and harmony for the rest of their lives. The boatman only brings couples over to the island who actually have true bonds of love, and if they fail his test, then he brings just one person at a time, and they are doomed to never see each other again. You can see how this has a fairy tale feel to it.

What was so interesting to me was how the boatman decides whether the couple actually has a strong bond of love. The boatmen simply ask the couple to tell him their fondest memory with each other.

“Besides when travelers speak of their most cherished memories, it’s impossible for them disguise the truth. A couple may claim to be bonded by love, but we boatmen may see instead resentment, anger, even hatred. Or a great barrenness. Sometimes a fear of loneliness and nothing more. Abiding love that has endured the years–that we see only rarely. When we do, we’re only too glad to ferry the couple together…”

I thought this passage was memorable, and it’s an interesting way to evaluate love. When you ask your partner what is the fondest memory, what will they say? What does their answer reveal about the quality of love? What does that say about the very nature of memory? Can a memory define love?

I dare you to ask your wife or your husband this very question tonight. Make sure to check out this new novel by Ishiguro.

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