It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book this much. And a proper one at that- chick lit doesn’t really count- pedantry on shoes, clothes and the like isn’t actually pedantry it seems. Anyway, dare I say it, The Remains of the Day has toppled The Secret History as my favourite book. The prose is not as lush as the latter, nor is it littered with interesting, if obscure, references to the archaic, but it is surely a tour de force in every sense of the word. I love how Ishiguro develops his tragically misguided characters. I love how the book says so many things without actually saying them. I just love it so much. It actually moved me to tears. Thoroughly deserving of that Booker in my opinion. Also, though this might be somewhat superficial, I love the main protagonist’s (Stevens, the butler) voice. It’s pitch perfect, crisp, clipped Englishy English. The nice kind, the Queen’s kind, the BBC kind, the kind I like. Why can’t more English speak this way? Honestly, I do believe the golden age of Great Britain is fading. (Let’s not even go into the deterioration of “British” manners in the emerging generation.) Anyway, before I get all huffy, an exerpt.
Now I am quite prepared to believe that other countries can offer more obviously spectacular scenery. Indeed, I have seen in encyclopedias and the National Geographic Magazine breath-taking photographs of sights from various corners of the globe; magnificent canyons and waterfalls, raggedly beautiful mountains. It has never, of course, been my priviledge to have seen such things at first hand, but I will nevertheless hazard this with some confidence: the English landscape at its finest- such as I saw it this morning- possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe a quality that will mark the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up in the term “greatness”. For it is true, when I stood on that high ledge this morning and viewed the land before me, I distinctly felt that rare, yet unmistakable feeling- the feeling that one is in the presence of greatness. We call this land of ours Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice. Yet I would venture that the landscape of our country alone would justify the use of this lofty adjective.
And yet what precisely is this “greatness”? Just where, or in what, does it lie? I am quite aware it would take a far wiser head than mine to answer such a question, but if I were forced to hazard a guess, I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. In comparision, the sort of sight offered in such places as Africa and America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective iewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness.
Controversial, no? I wonder who exactly fills the shoes of this “objective viewer” he speaks of. This isn’t the best passage, though an interesting one and one which I believe might be of interest to some. There is no best passage. It is the way the novel is constructed, the way the protagonist learns, the self deception, the discovery. It is the delicious irony which drips from the tip of Ishiguro’s pen, it is the way the reader finds himself at a loss- to laugh or to cry? It is the conclusion that is also the title, the enfolding tragedy that was always there from the beginning, that makes this literary work so much more than merely admirable. It echoes of truth, a quality that so many contemporary writers have disregarded in their quest for originality and stylistic flair. Give me truth anyday.
The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro