Taking time off can offer a break from everyday worries, giving time to reflect on life and priorities. Unfortunately, introspection is not always a good thing.
The Remains Of The Day is a novel about a vacation gone awry.
Stevens is a butler, a gentleman’s gentleman, in the twilight of his career and taking a vacation – possibly the first one he’s ever taken – and is off to visit a former colleague, Miss Kenton, the housekeeper he hopes to hire back.
Our hero has borrowed a car and is motoring alone across England. This gives him time to consider his choices. Stevens has always put selfless service above the personal.
But Kazuo Ishiguro’s breathtaking tragedy is a portrait of a wasted life.
“Stevens’ greatest defeat is the consequence of his most profound conviction – that his master is working for the good of humanity, and that his own glory lies in serving him. But Lord Darlington is, and is finally disgraced as, a Nazi collaborator and dupe.”
That’s from Salman Rushdie’s introduction to a just-released new edition of The Remains Of The Day.
Incomprehensibly, the book, which won the Booker Prize in 1989, has been out of print. (Lennoxville Library members, however, know that we’ve had it on the fiction shelf for quite a while.)
Rushdie calls the novel “both beautiful and cruel.” That is true. And it is, quite simply, one of the most stunning novels to be written in the English language.
The Remains Of The Day is also one of the very few books that features a butler in his own words.
Here’s Ishiguro, from the introduction: “I was surprised to find how little there was about servants written by servants, given that a sizable proportion of people in this country were employed in service right up until the Second World War. It was amazing that so few of them had thought their lives worth writing about. So most of the stuff… in The Remains Of The Day was made up.”
Ishiguro has acknowledged that the great Jeeves was “a big influence”. (Author PG Wodehouse’s comedies featured a slightly dim young man and his manservant Jeeves, who always managed to save his accident-prone master’s bacon.)
Stevens’ looming retirement comes at the end of the war, when England itself is changing drastically. The days of upstairs, downstairs – of the lords and ladies above and servants below – are also coming to an end.
There is only so much change that a butler can accept.
Do you want to remember New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina hit? The first three murder mysteries that author Laura Childs set in the Big Easy have been collected up and issued as Death By Design (published in 2006, it includes Keepsake Crimes, Photo Finished and Bound For Murder).
Our amateur detective is Carmela Bertrand, who runs a small but successful scrapbooking store called Memory Mine in the French Quarter. These three books are really about the city and the neighbours and customers-turned-friends who surround Bertrand, with a murder tossed in to allow for some suspenseful goings on here and there.
And of course, the books are filled with scrapbooking ideas (and a few recipes). The writing is reminiscent of Childs’ Tea Shop mystery series (which has been previously mentioned in Good Reads). The books are short (about 150 pages each), the writing simple, the sightseeing easy.
Bertrand is scrabbling for money after having been dumped by her well-to-do hubby, who needs to find himself. Bertrand knows he’s a scoundrel, but still loves him.
Estranged hubby then becomes a suspect in a murder in the inaugural Keepsake Crimes (2003), with the tale (and the killing) set against the annual Mardi Gras celebrations and the city’s arts community.
Photo Finished (2004) begins with a scrapbooking seminar and the murder of the cranky neighbour — an antiquarian with questionable wares — in Bertrand’s back alley. Could one of her customers be the killer? Meanwhile, hubby is back and wants to “talk”. (Okay. Maybe. Yes. No. Yes. No. Uhm….)
In Bound For Murder (2004), yet another body shows up, this one in a restaurant during a party: “I think [he] tried to write [a clue] with his own blood!” Unfortunately, he didn’t write enough.
Bertrand, and her customers, share details and hints about clues to the killer’s identity while the shopkeeper also spends her time navigating that darned husband of hers and his mixed signals, the complexities of successful entrepreneurship, and the joys of living in New Orleans.
In the anthology’s introduction, Childs promises to consider the post-hurricane cleanup in subsequent books.
– Eleanor Brown, Augusr 22, 2014