This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro and I am mighty impressed. The actual storyline of the book is good, but the subtle meanings are even better.
On the surface, this is the story of Axl and Beatrice, elderly Britons, trying to visit their grown son. But they, like everyone else in this land, have lost their memories and only have the vaguest recollection of their son and even their personal stories, including their shared history. So off they go on this very unclear quest and on their way, they meet up with a young boy (a Saxon), a soldier (also a Saxon), and Sir Gawain himself (a Briton). In the end, they do not find their son, but their memories are beginning to return and then Beatrice goes on a journey by herself to the island where the son lives. It turns out,
So, this book gracefully examines issues like how to deal with populations that live together, but have hated each other for generations; what is justified by war; the cleansing of the reputation of national heroes (a type of memory manipulation); the importance of memory to the human experience; and the deliverance of death. By the time I got to the end of the book, I couldn't believe how many thorny issues had been explored by this little fable and never once did I think I had been lectured to. In fact, what was interesting was how I couldn't decide the best answer to each issue. Is it preferable to lose your memory and live peacefully or retain your memory only to embrace hatred? Is the sacrifice of a innocents ever justified in order to end a war and does your answer change if the innocents belong to the group that "started it" (made me think about the discussion of the atom bombs used in WWII, but really, it's true of all wars). Should we abandon the whole concept of national heroes, even when very flawed people have done very heroic things? And is death a journey to be embraced or fought?
The more I've thought about this book, the more I've liked and admired it. Has anyone else read it? If not, please do and respond as quickly as possible.
Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were pupils at Hailsham - an idyllic establishment situated deep in the English countryside. The children there were tenderly sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe they were special, and that their personal welfare was crucial. But for what reason were they really there? It is only years later that Kathy, now aged 31, finally allows herself to yield to the pull of memory. What unfolds is the haunting story of how Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, slowly come to face the truth about their seemingly happy childhoods - and about their futures. Never Let Me Go is a uniquely moving novel, charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of our lives.
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I've greatly admired Booker prize winning (The Remains of the Day) author Kazuo Ishiguro for a long time and am surprised by how long it look me to get around to properly reading his earliest books. A Pale View of Hills is fascinating for what it reveals about an artist at an earlier stage of exploring his narrative and stylistic powers as well as for the tale it tells -- or, being an Ishiguro novel, the tale it doesn’t quite tell. A Japanese woman living in Britain, Etsuko, is the mother of a recent suicide victim. Yet as she begins her memoir, the story she tells is of her own earlier life in postwar Nagasaki. It’s an elegant and enigmatic story, and I’ll try to comment on it without giving too much away.
The big philosophical issues Ishiguro’s later novels explore -- existential angst about what are we to make of the particular life we have, for instance -- are already probed here, with what would become Ishiguro's customary delicacy. Certain instances of finely drawn dialogue are a good example of this (not all of it is perfect, but it is all forgivable in a first novel that many seasoned writers could not equal); 'So many women just get brainwashed. they think all there is to life is getting marred and having a load of kids.' says the daughter, to which the mother, a survivor of Nagasaki, replies 'In the end... there isn't very much else.'
The issue of gender is significant for the text, too. In the new post-war Japan, society struggles to work out how much of the modern world to absorb. The father-in-law's insistence on traditional values comes across, as does so much in this book, as fated and above all, as terribly sad. Speaking of gender -- how gratifying to read a book with the theme of motherhood, surely one of the most significant yet most under-explored subjects in literature (but I'll have more to say about that later, elsewhere, I'm sure) -- written by a man. And so heartbreaking. Here are intertwined the grief of an elderly woman for a daughter who has hanged herself and the reminiscences she has of a woman she knew in Nagasaki, a woman anxious to get to the West (where the narrator now lives) and who
And it is then that I felt that shiver of realisation and that all the clues in the text began to slide into place. I had already wondered
Now I realised why the story was being told. How brilliantly, in his already elliptical fashion, Ishiguro shows us.
cached thread from google
Stewart 15th December 2005 03:00 PM
The Remains of the Day
A short monologue (about 250 pages) dictated by Stevens, the Butler of Darlington Hall in the 1950s who, on the recommendation of his new American employer, takes a trip out to the English countryside.
Of course, priding himself on his professionalism, he uses the trip for work purposes in the hope of recruiting a former worker back to Darlington Hall after he had convinced himself that, from her letter, she wanted to return.
So off he goes and all the while he recalls the major events of Darlington Hall during the 1930s as his employer, Lord Darlington, dabbles in politics and demonstrates Nazi sympathies - a man more influenced by others than someone to aspire to. All the while, of course, Stevens is the consummate professional and his attitude to his master is one of love and respect, a man whom he would obey without question.
The prose is sweet. Stevens’ voice is smooth, well constructed, and so utterly natural, and his musings over trying to come to terms with the world via such minor quibbles as perfecting the art of bantering demonstrate a wonderful character. Polite the whole way through his language only falters when it almost seems his emotions are about to better him and tears are ready to gush.
Written in the late 1980s this Booker Prize winner from Ishiguro is an interesting look at professionalism and I think, at least to me, it demonstrates how we need to find a balance between achieving our goals and being true to ourselves.
David 15th December 2005 03:10 PM
As I have mentioned elsewhere, this is one of my favourite books and a beautifully constructed novel. The skill in the narrative lies in the creation of Stevens' persona, tragically flawed in its emotional reserve, with its wonderful hints of the depths beneath (such as his fondness for romantic novels, poignantly prised from him by Miss Kenton). We see the truth behind his words, yet he does not, and it is that which imbues the book with such frustration and tenderness.
I have always been interested by the fact that this subject matter - an old-school butler lost in notions of respect for one's 'betters' and smothered in emotional reserve - was chosen by a writer of Japanese descent. The traditional Japanese culture bears strong parallels with the portrayal of Stevens and must surely have been part of his inspiration.
A great book and for once a very worthy Booker winner!
belinda 20th December 2005 09:44 PM
Ishiguro was a new writer to me this year. Personally I think he is one of the best writers out there. I can't say there is one novel I admire above all others.
What I do know is that I will read and re-read his novels over the years. The only one I felt fell short was 'The Unconsoled' where his touch felt less sure
If you have not read the book but only seen the film of 'Remains of the Day' - read the book, the film came nowhere near the pathos and dignity of the book.
Hilary 20th December 2005 11:30 PM
Dignity, that is exactly the word... I loved this book but have never read any others. What would you recommend first?
Stewart 21st December 2005 12:21 AM
Same here. I've now read The Remains of the Day, An Artist of the Floating World, and Never Let Me Go, and I've been nothing short of impressed and, in the case of my writing, inspired.
I now have A Pale View of Hills, The Unconsoled, and When We Were Orphans on my shelf waiting to be read.
Since the books are seen as very loose trilogies (so I've learnt) I would suggest, despite never having read it, A Pale View of Hills. It's better, I think, to start at the start and read this amazing author develop over his six books.
minxminnie 16th March 2006 05:53 PM
I've just read this book, picked pretty much at random from my TBR pile. I got through it in three days, despite being otherwise very busy - I was hooked from page one.
I found it sad, thought provoking, and very funny - especially when he was trying to learn to banter. I liked the narrative voice - in many ways he made me think of Christopher in "A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime", with his passionless dissection of normal activities. I found it a bit hard to see what Miss Kenton saw in him!
Mr.InBetween 21st March 2006 12:56 PM
On a literary level it’s a hell of a book, but it is a…bizarre read. The way he captures the randomness and surrealness of dreaming is breathtaking.
But, as like watching the Kurosawa film “Dreams”, there is something unsettling about it.
Definitely worth a read, but not when one is desiring something like much of KI’s other work.
megustaleer 23rd March 2006 08:11 AM
This is another one that I read years ago, but it did leave a greater impression on me than many of the books I've read.
Stevens is a wonderfully drawn character, and it is heart-wrenchingly poignant that we can see so clearly the life he is missing by his inability to relate on an emotional level with the people who care about him.
What does Miss Kenton see in him? The same as the reader, I guess.
I expect she thinks that 'the love of a good woman' would be the making of him, and thinks she could be just the woman. She probably could have been, too, but unsurprisingly, Stevens doesn't catch on until too late.
I loved this book, but the only other book by Ishiguru that I have read is 'An Artist Of The Floating World', which I found a little difficult to follow, but well worth the effort.
Starry 23rd March 2006 09:15 AM
I thought I had replied to this already, but looks like I haven't. This is another book that instantly leapt into my 10 favourite books list.
Stevens has a narrow view on life and I think this is what makes it so compelling as I was constantly trying to see past his words to what was really happening. I don't think I have ever read a book which has so fully described a character, I feel like I know Stevens better than I know my own father and every detail illuminated the whole. The writing is breathtaking and I know I will need to read it again and again.
Grammath 23rd March 2006 01:19 PM
I'd like to add my praise for this superb and subtle book and for Ishiguro's body of work - or what I've read of it (this, plus "When We Were Orphans" and in the very dim and distant past "An Artist of the Floating World". The rest are on the TBR mountain).
Its a neat literary trick to create a character who simultaneously appears to be in confessional mode and yet the reader learns as much about him through what he doesn't say about himself and his Lordship's activities as what he includes.
I've read other books in a similar mould (I'm thinking of "Lolita" and John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure") both fine works in their own right but not in the same league as "The Remains of the Day".