Category Archives: Ishiguro – Kazuo

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

buried

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is a fantasy novel, and is completely different from the two other books I have read by this author, The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

The story follows the travels of an elderly Christian couple, Axl and Beatrice, who live in England just after the time of King Arthur, along with ogres and dragons and other mythical beasts. Despite being of an age where their knowledge would traditionally be valued, Axl and Beatrice are tormented by children and are not permitted to have a candle in their room, which is a long way from the community’s fire. Both Axl and Beatrice are concerned about their own and their community’s forgetfulness about matters that have previously been important to them.

Axl and Beatrice clearly have a great love for each other, although Axl calling Beatrice ‘Princess’ every time he spoke to her was irritating.

Beatrice and Axl set off on a journey to visit their son, although at times they are not even sure if they ever had a son, as they cannot clearly remember their past. Early in the journey they met with a boatman whose role is to ferry people to an island, either together if their love is true, or if not, alone.

Axl and Beatrice arrived at a town where the townspeople were in a panicked frenzy over a boy who has been taken by demons. When the boy was rescued by a visiting warrior and returned, the superstitions of the townspeople endangered the boy’s life, so he and the warrior left town with Axl and Beatrice, and continued their travels together.

I stopped reading at about this point, because I couldn’t figure out what was going on, or what anything meant. Plus, I kept getting distracted, and thinking things like, ‘I must go and make the bed’, or ‘The bathroom really needs cleaning’, which I think actually meant, I should find another book to read instead of The Buried Giant, as it wasn’t for me. I didn’t even flick through to the end, to see if Axl and Beatrice made it back to the boatman to take their last journey together.

The Remains of the Day is one of the best books I’ve ever read and I loved Never Let Me Go, so I won’t be put off reading other books by this author. I don’t usually enjoy fantasy, so I’m putting my disinterest in The Buried Giant down to that.

 

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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I don’t know if I can read any more books by Kazuo Ishiguro, because his stories make my heart hurt. I’ve been thinking about Never Let Me Go for days, and suspect I’ll be thinking about the questions this story raises for a long time to come.

Never Let Me Go made me want to howl for Kazuo Ishiguro’s characters, not just little sniffles or hiccups, but the kind where you throw your head back and just let it all out, loud howls of pure pain. I’m not sure I can take any more, although I’m not sure I can live knowing that there are other books this author has written that I haven’t read either.

The Remains of the Day by this author is one of the best books I’ve ever read. The story left me questioning the balance of importance that I give to work and family, and forming vague intentions to work less and laugh more. (I haven’t achieved this yet. The current plan is to work hard now so I can laugh more later). Then I read Nocturnes, a collection of short stories. I wasn’t left with any lasting impressions other than that I enjoyed the stories while I was reading them.

If you plan to read Kazo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, then don’t read any more of my review. This is a book which is best read without any foreknowledge. Don’t even read the blurb on the back cover. Just pick it up and start reading.

For the rest of you, Never Let Me Go is narrated by Kathy H, who starts telling the story when she is 31. Kathy’s story is entwined with the stories of her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. The three have known each other all their lives, having grown up together at Hailsham, a home for children in an alternate version of England in the 1990’s. (Here we go again, my favourite genre; alternate reality).

At 31, Kathy is a ‘carer,’ who is to become a ‘donor’ at an unknown time in her future. What being a carer or a donor consists of is a mystery, until the realisation eventually dawns on the reader. For me, this was around half way through the book. The characters in this book are always aware of their destiny, because the staff at Hailsham tell the children what their futures will consist of, albeit when they are slightly too young to understand the information. Kazuo Ishiguro does this to his readers too. The information is there, from the very first page, but the reader doesn’t have the ability to understand what is going on until they are ready to put it all together for themselves.

Kathy starts telling her story from when she and her friend Ruth were best friends at the age of 14. At the same time, Tommy was being bullied by his peers. From the beginning, Kathy tries to give Tommy the tools he needs emotionally to stop the bullying and eventually, he breaks away from being a victim. Tommy is always a good person, and I desperately wanted him to be cared for and loved and treated well. Ruth, on the other hand, was manipulative and often mean. Somehow though,  Ruth and Tommy ended up as a couple when they were older teenagers and Kathy as a friend to both.

The students at Hailsham don’t have parents, or family. They are cared for and taught by staff who have created what they believe is an idyllic world for their students. When they are old enough, the students leave Hailsham for another protected environment, where they are free to have relationships (with others of their kind) and see a bit of the world before they become carers.

Not knowing what is going on, and suspecting the worst (and all of my suspicions were correct) was horrifying and nightmarish. It was almost better to find out the worst, although now I’m left with all of these questions about morals and ethics and what I would do if I needed something a donor has, either for myself or for someone I loved.

I can’t understand why none of the characters tried to escape their futures? What they are can’t be determined by appearances, visually they blend in with ‘ordinary’ people. They never even question the fairness of what will happen to them. Kathy and Tommy question their future eventually, but only up to a point. They understand they are different and accept their fate completely.

I didn’t want Never Let Me Go to end, because I wanted to continue hoping that the characters would get the opportunity to live their lives fully. I wanted a community for them, family, babies, and freedom. However, Kathy, Ruth and Tommy were blessed by their love and friendship with each other and in many ways, by their sense of purpose and I suspect this is why I cared for them so much.

 

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Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

nocturnes

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro is a collection of short stories, all with a musical theme and told in the first person. Some of the stories feature the same characters.

The first story, Crooner, is a bittersweet love story. The main character is a guitar player, making his living playing for tourists in Venice, when he spots legendary crooner Tony Gardner in the audience. The narrator’s mother was a huge fan of Tony Gardner’s, so the guitar player approaches Tony to pay tribute to him. After some conversation, Tony employs the guitarist to accompany him later in the day when he serenades his wife, Lindy, from a gondola. The songs Tony sings to Lindy are love songs, but it turns out that they are about to divorce, because, as Tony  explains, “Me and Lindy are getting to be a laughing stock,” after having been married for so long. Tony wants to make a comeback and to be successful, believes that he needs a new, younger wife.

Come Rain or Come Shine is the story of a visit between three friends. Emily and Charlie’s marriage is on rocky grounds, and Charlie hopes that a few days of Raymond’s company will remind Emily of the good times they shared when they were at university together. However, Raymond instantly notices that Emily’s face has grown “distinctly bull doggy” which does not make me think she is a happy woman. Charlie disappears, (it turns out he is having an affair) and the visit goes from bad to worse when Raymond reads Emily’s diary and reads, “Raymond coming tomorrow. Groan. Groan.” This story, particularly the section where Raymond is caught by Emily behaving like a dog in an attempt to destroy her diary, had me laughing until I had tears rolling down my face.

Malvern Hills is the story of a middle-aged guitarist who spends a summer living with, (in other words, sponging off), his sister and her husband. One of the male characters is described as having “ABBA style hair.” These three simple words provide a mental image of a character which may never be wiped from my memory.

 Nocturne is the story of a sax player who is talented, but too ugly to be successful (!). When his wife leaves him, she asks her new lover to pay for plastic surgery for him. After the surgery, the sax player finds himself recuperating in a hotel room next to Lindy Gardner, who is the ex-wife of legendary Tony Gardner from the first story in this collection, Crooner. Lindy swans around with her head completely bandaged, wearing a dressing-gown “she could have worn to a movie premiere without too much embarrassment.” I had serious dressing-gown envy reading this, since my dressing-gown shouldn’t be worn with the light on, let alone anywhere that movie stars and paparazzi gather. Anyway, Lindy and the sax player have a few adventures while they are recuperating, and an incident with a turkey and a trophy which I defy anyone to read and not snort with laughter.

Cellists is the story of another musician in Venice, playing in cafes to entertain tourists. On their “third time playing The Godfather theme since lunch,” he notices a fellow musician who used to play with his band. This fellow left the band for bigger and better things after being mentored by a mysterious woman. Cellists had a twist I didn’t see coming.

The Remains of the Day by this author is one of the best books I have read in the past few years. Nocturnes has the same understated style, but is much funnier, although the stories are all bittersweet. The stories all seemed to me to be the perfect length, with no padding or details that didn’t belong. I liked the musical theme which tied the stories too.

Kazuo Ishiguro is an author whose work I am looking forward to reading more of.

 

 

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

remains

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a beautiful but sad story which tells of the passing of the era of the English upper class in the time between World War One and Two.

The story is told in the first person by an elderly butler, Stevens, who has lived his entire adult life serving others in grand houses, most recently Darlington Hall. Stevens’ life of service has been at the detriment of his own personal life, although Stevens feels that his work has allowed great men to live great lives, with his employers serving humanity through their involvement in politics.

In the beginning of the book, Stevens is working at Darlington Hall for the rich American, Mr Farraday, who bought the property after Lord Darlington died, when he is encouraged to make a trip in his employer’s car to visit Miss Kenton, who used to be the housekeeper at Darlington Hall. During his travels, Stevens reflects on his life and of the importance of his career.

Steven’s ideal of the perfect butler is one who is dignified at all times. He holds other qualities in high esteem, particularly good moral values, but it is Stevens’ regard for dignity which carries the whole story.

In the beginning of the story, Stevens is anxious because Mr Farraday seems to want to banter with him, which leaves Stevens at a loss. He studies and practices bantering, but never quite manages to successfully amuse his employer, and he worries that this inability makes him deficient in his duties. Stevens’ humour and Mr Farraday’s are too different for them to understand each other perfectly.

During Lord Darlington’s time, Darlington Hall was filled with important political people of the time, from England, Germany and other parts of Europe. The reader recognises that Lord Darlington was probably not a great man at all, that in fact he lacked strength of character, was prone to flattery and made some racist decisions which impacted the Jewish staff members of his household terribly.

An important social event earlier in Stevens’ career at Darlington Hall was particularly tragic. Stevens tells the story of continuing to serve Lord Darlington’s guests, smiling and laughing at the guest’s jokes, and facilitating their comparatively trivial needs while his own father was upstairs dying. Stevens sees this night as the most triumphant of his career, as he never let his mask slip or provided less than the best possible service.

Another tragedy of both Steven’s life and that of Miss Kenton’s, the housekeeper, is that they grew to love one another, and could have married, had children and made a life together, except that Stevens never allowed this to happen. I was unsure if Stevens was aware of Miss Kenton’s feelings towards himself or not until the end of the book when they met again after many years apart, but either way, Stevens’ inability to allow himself to feel his emotions makes him one of the saddest fictional characters I have ever read about, although, if he wasn’t so self effacing, he would probably argue that these qualities made him a ‘great’ butler.

The language and dialogue in The Remains of the Day is beautiful and this would be an excellent book to read aloud. When I read parts of the story aloud to myself, I put on the snobbiest English-butler accent that my Australian drawl could manage, and enjoyed myself thoroughly.

The Remains of the Day left me feeling as if I should chuck in my job and live my life while I can.

The question is though, can I afford to learn what not to do from Stevens, and throw in my job to do what I want all day? (Read, eat chocolate, roller-skate, travel, laugh more, etc). If I do, will my family, (who, it could be argued, are my most important job), suffer? Yes, probably they would. Should I try harder to even up my work/life balance? (Yes, I know ‘work/life balance’ is an ‘it’ phrase, but it does describe the issue). Yes, probably I should. I work long hours and sometimes that is to my family’s detriment. Could I throw in my job? No, we have to eat. Plus, I like my work and take pride in it, although luckily for my family, not as much as Stevens does.

At the end of his story, Stevens realises what he has given up when he meets with Miss Kenton, and this is bittersweet.

I could not be gladder to have read The Remains of the Day, which must be one of the best books I’ve read this year. I’m planning on watching the movie and reading more books by this author soon. Hopefully when I am an old lady on my deathbed, I don’t look back on my life and wish then that I had taken a lesson from Stevens.

 

 

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