Saturday, April 21, 2007

The unreliable butler.

I just finished Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day.

Going into the story, I wasn't really sure what to expect. I mean, even looking at the back of the book, the story didn't sound all that compelling? A butler? Really?

But I had decently enjoyed Never Let Me Go, and this is one of those "acclaimed" novels that I felt I should read. Even before reading When We Were Orphans, which I also own and need to get through.

Going into it, I was kinda like, ehh... The tone was so formal and the narrator kept talking about butlering, which was kind of boring. I thought there'd be some "action" but the further I got into it, there still wasn't. Sometimes when I was tired, I found it difficult to get through the book without re-reading passages.

But.

The more I read it, the more I noticed the literary value of it. Okay, story itself, is it that compelling? I probably wouldn't have picked it up if it weren't him and if it weren't acclaimed. But I'm trying to hold my own English classes here, so fine.

I started to seriously appreciate the technical aspect of the book. The tone of the book was done so well, how unreliable you slowly realize the narrator is. He's all business, all butler: formal as shit, and never letting on how he feels about anything. His dad dies, and he just paints it all so objectively, how he has to go back down and attend to guests. In fact, we only find out how he feels through other people, people asking him if he's all right, he looks like he's tired or upset or whatever. He never lets on in his narration how he feels. Strictly butler, always trying to convince the audience he is doing what is proper. Even at the very end, he's talking about serving Lord Darlington and we don't even know he's crying until the guy he's talking to offers him a hanky. He never even says he's crying. In fact, the only time we really get how he really feels about a situation is the very last memory with Miss Kenton:

Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed - why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking.
--[page 239]


It's interesting to me how formal and guarded the tone is the entire time, as if he's trying to convince himself of things. It goes along with how he just kinda goes along the whole time with Lord Darlington's shenanigans, saying it's not his place to have an opinion. And how he kinda never mentions his true thoughts of Miss Kenton, but you kind of figure it out. He spends the whole novel convincing himself of things, but it's not his narrative that gives us an accurate view of things at all, but the memories he chooses to bring up. His narrative is deluded, but over the course of the novel he kinda concedes a little at a time to the delusions - even Miss Kenton's letters and the intent behind them, and of course, the larger picture of Lord Darlington and if he indeed had helped something along. The idea of "dignity" and what that is, how one aspires towards that.

Very clever, really. The whole thing isn't forward-looking at all, but backwards looking, and it's only at the end he can come to terms with these things that have been nagging at him apparently, and thus, causing him to make those "mistakes" for his current employer. And it's only there where the title kicks in and means something.

By the way, I totally smirked and tried not to laugh outloud on the subway when I read about his attempts to "banter". That strikes me as so funny. A butler who doesn't know how to banter.

Stevens actually irked me somewhat. By his hoity-toity demeanor and self-validating pretention where he tried to justify things and his lack of empathy. But I think that was all part of the cleverness of this whole thing. His guise was so complete, that he wouldn't even let his guard down on paper - this is a butler who reads ROMANCE novels during his free-time. Obviously there's much that lies beneath the surface that he has surpressed. It's interesting because you never really get an honest picture from him of what kind of person he is, but you can gather clues from everything else that there is a weird sensitivity and pain hidden behind all of his butler training and decades of being "proper".

Okay, Ishiguro, good job. Can't wait to read When We Were Oprhans.

By the way, this kind of book makes me wonder: where the hell did he get this idea from?

1 drops:

moonrat said...

i love him. he is so, so smart.

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