Friday, September 09, 2005

Cloud Atlas

Been reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (Random House 2004), a novel that was shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year. This passage (pp. 360-361) caught my eye, as a commentary on disability (on ageism particularly, but the observation works more generally). Timothy Cavendish has been tricked into surrendering himself to the care of a nursing home, and is looking for a way to escape, while longtime residents Ernie and Veronica try to discourage his solo effort as futile:
"Scouting," Ernie answered, "for his one-man escape committee."
"Oh, once you've been initiated into the Elderly, the world doesn't want you back." Veronica settled herself into a rattan chair and adjusted her hat just so. "We--by whom I mean anyone over sixty--commit two offenses just by existing. One is Lack of Velocity. We drive too slowly, walk too slowly, talk too slowly. The world will do business with dictators, perverts, and drug barons of all stripes, but being slowed down it cannot
abide. Our second offence is being Everyman's memento mori. The world can only get comfy in shiny-eyed denial if we are out of sight."
She smiled fondly. "Just look at the people who come here during visiting hours! They need treatment for shock. Why else do they spout that 'You're only as old as you feel!' claptrap? Really, who are they hoping to fool? Not us--themselves!"
Ernie concluded, "Us elderly are the modern lepers. That's the truth of it."

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