I just learnt that The Apologist was the English title for Eating Crow by Jay Rayner. I wonder why the title was changed for the American audience; if they would help in understanding the satirical humour, or to cast light on the differences between the two countries.
The novel is a bemusing look at the side of our society that wants the dark ugly things found in history to be resolved easily and cheaply, with a pat on the head and a “there-there” to quell whatever ills were, and probably still are in some way, committed against a people/culture/denomination.It follows the events that befall Marc Basset, a restaurant critic that finds that he has an incredible capacity to emote hurt and convey sincere apologies. He also discovers that apologizing gives him a certain self-gratifying euphoria. His first apology is to the wife of a chef that committed suicide by walking into his bread oven after reading Basset’s review of his restaurant. From there Basset moves onto apologizing to former friends, girlfriends, colleagues, and anyone else that he feels he has wronged in some way.
His talent loses him his girlfriend, but gets him noticed by the newly formed United Nations Office of Apology and Reconciliation panel. It is UNOAR’s responsibility is to facilitate better relations between states and groups of people as “the conduct of calm international relations is being stymied by the enormous weight of emotional baggage that world history has given us. There are too many countries, too many peoples – call them what you will – with unresolved grievances. If we could resolve the issues of the past, then the conduct of world affairs in the present would be that much smoother” (95). This is the sentiment that propels the second half of the book.
While it brought a few sardonic chuckles and even a few laugh out loud moments, Rayner just does not sustain this level of humour through the whole novel. He makes a few poignant remarks on the shallowness of apologies and how their genuineness is lost through the careful, behind the scene calculation by vested groups on how the successful reception of an apology will save a government millions of dollars. Part of Basset’s salary is based on his performance. He receives a percentage of the savings as an apology with monetary pay out is run through a formula to calculate how much the payer would have owed without giving an apology.
As a character, Basset just does not make for believability, which is a problem as the nature of his work loom larger than his individual efforts. In the first half of the novel, Rayner does a good job in establishing the hows and the whys of Basset’s existence and motivations, but he is entirely overwhelmed in the second part by the job he is set-up to do. There is not enough sympathy generated to carry his character from apologizing to the individuals he has hurt through the ironies found in the grander scale his job with UNOAR brings his way. The circumstances and situations of which move too quickly to fully explore the depth of satire that could be found in this political trend adequately.
Eating Crow quickly brought to mind previous discussions had over the events in Canadian politicking throughout the previous decade. It also shows some of the dangers in heading down the road of acknowledging mistakes, but only looking to fix them with a handshake and a cheque. As Basset finds out, not all wrong doings can be solved this way. A college friend that he sets up for heartbreak due to jealousy refuses his apology twenty years later, even mocking him for the attempt.
The final commentary is that some hurts just do not go away, even after an orchestrated, rehearsed, emoted apology. People can move on after hurts, in fact they may even grow after them to become better people. The worry is whether or not the people who inflicted the hurts grow as well. Apologizing does not show proof in that. Acknowledging and remembering the wrong doings so that there is not repetition by committing the same offences and injustices will be the true sign of growth. In that, only the history to come will prove how well these mistakes are learnt from.
A good quote I could not help but include here: “In an age of reality television, when authentic emotion was so commonly sought but so rarely found, I was being praised for displaying feelings of such depth and intensity that commentators had been moved to reclassify the broadcast as, by turns, “ultra-reality television,” “meta-reality television,” and even “reality-max” (203).