The Remains of the Day

Here is the first of what I hope will be many short book overviews/reviews, which after all was what I intended to do when I first started this damn blog.

 The most crucial criterion is that the applicant be possessed of a dignity in keeping with his position…

This poignant, erudite, fascinating and beautifully nostalgic book was the perfect counter to the book I read just prior, Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. That was a mighty tome of a book, full of modular mathematics, Van Eyck Phreaking, WWII conspiracies, modern technology and classic code-breaking – all tied to a plot about secret war gold. I will be attempting to write a review that does the book some justice very soon (as well as finishing the draft review of Pale Fire that I started a few months ago).

The plot concerns an aging butler, Stevens, who has worked some thirty-five years in the service of Lord Darlington, before the house is taken over by a younger American gentleman who is clearly not from one of the ‘old families.’ Stevens embarks on a motoring trip to the West Country in order to re-acquaint himself with an old colleague whom he wishes once again to employ at Darlington Hall, and on his travels is led to reminisce about his working life and the people he has encountered in the course of his service over the years. A subtle blend of stifled class humour, perfectly frustrating teasers about the nature of Lord Darlington, a distressingly broken relationship with his father and a plot-spanning, almost philosophical discussion of the ‘greatness’ of those in the profession of butlering make this an incredibly absorbing read; Ishiguro is a mighty talent.

I find it particularly interesting that the book was written in the late 80’s by a Japanese man (who moved to England when he was very young, admittedly) who was in his early thirties at the time, and yet perfectly captures the idea of a quintessential English butler somewhat advanced in years and whose principal experiences lay in the early 1900s, without falling into the traps of Alfred-esque clichés. I love fiction that draws you so deeply into that world, that it becomes as believable as fact, that every nuance seems realistic without question. In the case of The Remains of the Day this manifests itself most clearly when you start thinking in Stevens’ particular speech pattern, and when every recollection of his in the story seems like a fond memory to you, the reader.

It is no wonder that Ishiguro won the Booker Prize for this, his third novel. Speaking of which, the long list was announced not so long ago – check it out, see what you think of the nominations, maybe even forecast a winner? Prizes like this one look for the ‘totality of life’ portrayed in a book, and in this case the effect is achieved more than admirably. There has been a film made of it, with Anthony Hopkins I believe, but I haven’t seen it. I will however be going to watch Never Let Me Go (also by Ishiguro) when it is released later this year – apparently the film makers had the script before the book was even published, so there’s little worry about the change of media destroying the original image and intent of the author. It’s another book that I’ve read this year, that I should review soon, and that you should read even sooner. That’s all for now.

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