kazuo ishiguro

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

As I read the first few chapters of this book, my thought process was as follows…

Wow, Ishiguro writes elegantly.

Hm, this narrator is starting to sound a tad long-winded and fussy.

Oh–he’s an English butler. That makes more sense.

Wait a second. Is this book about…being a butler? And what sort of qualities make a good butler? Am I really reading pages and pages of this? 

Why can’t I put this book down?

And that, good ladies and gentlemen, is the magic of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. The wonderful thing he does is make you forget there is an author. He assumes the voice of the main character so seamlessly and unobtrusively. In Never Let Me Go, he was a sheltered, simple-minded, orphanage-raised girl. In Remains of the Day, he is a middle-aged British butler who has spent his entire life catering to the needs of the elite class.

The succinct blurb is as follows: “In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past.”

The novel only spans about a week; most of the time we share in Stevens’ memories. He reflects on the gentlemen he has served, the political affairs to which he has inadvertently been privy, his father, and Miss Kenton, the housekeeper he has not seen for many years. Though Ishiguro never states it explicitly, Stevens is desperately searching for meaning in the way he has spent his life. The most poignant scene of the book occurs when Stevens is on duty whilst his father is dying in an upstairs bedroom. Ishiguro’s craft is beautiful because he is always implicit, never overt, never crass in his ideas and in his construction of character. Though Stevens does one thing and says another to justify it, through pattern and deduction we are able to read his person and the subtle sadness of his life, and the story presses its poignancy gently on our minds.

Ishiguro’s treatment of relationship, humour, dialogue and ageing is always elegant. The book at some points will make you bark with laughter at the absurdity of manners, and at other times will overwhelm you with a nebulous sense of regret.

Highly recommended.

Book review: Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go has been waiting on my bookshelf for several weeks now, tempting me with its peachy covers and smooth interior. So as soon as I finished my second out of three exams yesterday, I picked it up with glee and buried my nose in it on the long train journey back from Footscray to Glen Waverley.

This book has been marketed as a science fiction, a troubling portrayal of a dystopian 20th century…but that doesn’t really capture the essence of Never Let Me Go. It’s not about cyber-men and decaying urban sprawl. Yes, it’s set in an alternate 20th century where medical technology has progressed to such an advanced stage that the lines of humanity and ethics begin to blur. However, the science is far from the focus of Ishiguro’s story.

Ishiguro describes the lives of his main characters with such detail and clarity that as the reader, you can’t help but to be drawn close as though to a real person. You can’t help but be reminded of your own childhood: the blinkered way in which you learn about the world; the hints of meaning and snatches of adult conversation that always seem to elude you.

The narrator is 31 year old Kathy H., who, nearing the end of her short life, reflects on her seemingly idyllic childhood at the Hailsham boarding house, and the events that followed. The whole story is told in a very conversational style. Kathy’s mind drifts from memory to memory, each scene linking with the next, not necessarily in chronological order. At first I found this device effective as it added to the dreamy, highly personal narrative, but further into the book I was mildly frustrated by the lack of structure and conclusion. This is of course only a pet peeve, and I do not think it really detracts from the book overall–in fact, others would surely argue it adds to the atmosphere.

Kathy’s character is thoughtful and thorough. However, as the reader you are aware that you are seeing this troubling world through blinkered eyes. Her vocabulary is limited to the point of simplistic. The characters’ simple and passive reactions to complex and upsetting circumstances only heightens the feeling of unease. The point of the story, I think is that the characters never learn to rebel against their fates. They accept the system, not because of stupidity or laziness, but because their minds cannot conceive of the world being otherwise. This is, ultimately, a poignant tale, and an enjoyable read.

Verdict: 8/10

Now baby don’t you stop it, stop it

I arrived home late last night (with, I might add, a very happy stomach; Victor’s mum should be on Iron Chef!) to find a package waiting for me. A cardboard package that bore the marks of a long and dangerous journey, halfway across the known world, across oceans charted and uncharted. I tore into its brown, sticky-taped shell with ferocious glee to unwrap the following four glossy, crisp items. I inhaled their glorious scent like a mad woman…

Thanks to Mister Christopher, I have been seduced by the Book Depository. One more delivery on the way! It was a nice surprise to end a long and somewhat frustrating day, anyway…=)

A quick rundown:

Stardust – A bumbling London country boy goes to retrieve a fallen star in order to win the love of the village hottie. Things became complicated when the star turns out to have a life of her own. Also insert three witches who want to eat the heart of the star in order to remain immortal. This has been made into a movie adaptation starring Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Ben Barnes, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sienna Miller, Ricky Gervais, Rupert Everett and Robert De Niro. It is slightly inferior to the book.

Neverwhere – Richard Mayhew is an English businessman with a truly horrid fiancée, whose reality blurs when he is dragged into the adventures of London Below: a realm beneath the city populated by strange characters including the Angel Islington, a sly Marquis, a little girl with powers called Door, a female Hunter, and a menagerie of rat-people. This is a great read. Not to be confused with Michael Jackson’s Neverland.

Fragile Things – Another short story collection by the a concocter of the twisted and unpredictable. Haven’t read this yet!

Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro is a Japanese-born, English-educated writer. I’ve heard that his novels are more British than Japanese in style, whatever that means to you. Never Let Me Go was recently made into a film starring Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield. This will be the first of his works I’ve read.

In terms of real life, exam preparation is progressing slowly but surely, and I have another day off from the hospital tomorrow, so expect plenty of studious productivity another blog post! All the best to those of you who also have exams. I feel your pain. Let this ridiculous picture pull you out of your funk:

And finally, a little something for the fanboys/girls out there. I’m not a gamer, given that I lack the skills and coordination required to press buttons in the correct sequence (that also precludes a career as a forklift driver, accordion player and intimate lover) but I can appreciate an AWESOME TRAILER. Thanks Victor for keeping me up to date with everything in the galaxy far, far away…even though you don’t understand my jedi knight fetish.

Until tomorrow!

Squishes and kisses,

Grace

UPCOMING POSTS:
A SPOT OF SELF-DISCOVERY
WHY NICE GUYS FINISH LAST