Sunday, April 11, 2021
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Back in 2009 this was the first book I read by Ishiguro, which I followed up with Never Let Me Go later that year. At the time, I was impressed that he could tell two such different stories and yet have the sense of regret and sorrow. The same applied to his fantasy novel, The Buried Giant which I read around the time it was published. His approach remained the same regardless of the genre he was working in. More recently, I read his first two novels, A Pale View of Hills and An Artist of the Floating World, both of which are excellent. Rereading this in the context of the first two, I like it even more than I did a decade ago.
Ishiguro says he sees this as a rewrite of An Artist of the Floating World, and reading the two in quick succession really highlights the themes of coming to terms with your obsolescence as generations change and a sense of wasting one's life. More than that, both are about characters coming to terms with their own culpability in the evils of their times, Ojo for abandoning his art in favor of war propaganda and Stevens for loyally serving Lord Darlington despite the latter's nazi sympathies. I really appreciate this. Too often it's easy to point out the moral failings of others, but harder to come to terms with your own failings. I certainly have this tendency. Social media exaggerates this. I love that these books force readers to consider their own small place in the world while simultaneously not letting them off the hook for their own part in societal ills. It's subtle, but incredibly effective.
And on top of all that, it's a great unrequited love story and often very funny. Stevens' dithering about how well he is bantering had me audibly laughing in a room by myself. And, as in all the other books I've read by him, Ishiguro is masterful at having characters talk around what they mean while making it clear to the reader what is actually happening. I know that after these first three books he played around more with various genres, so I'm really looking forward to more of his work. Next up is (if I've been properly informed), his take on the crime novel, When We Were Orphans, though I will eventually read all of them.