Some thoughts as I begin The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
Amy Tan wrote on Twitter that she liked to read a book like The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford that was a good read, but not a thriller or a page turner, so that she could drift off to sleep; then, in that twilight between wakefulness and dreams, think of her own novel. Inspired by the peerless prose her own ideas were infused with creativity.
I wrote back to her that The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford was an example of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ whose words cannot be trusted, but from whose words the truth can still be gleaned if you read between the lines.
I read The Good Soldier quite a long time ago, but at the time I had read in some volume of forgotten lore, or more accurately, a book of literary criticism, that Ford Maddox Ford was a pioneer of the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ Technique and The Good Soldier his prime example. I can’t recall much about the book after all this time but (Spoiler Alert) the main character, I am picturing him as Mr. Burns on The Simpsons, had a young gal that he fancied fancied him right back, but who had a ‘cousin’ who was always hanging around. You gathered right away that he had a bit of a lacuna in his perception and that she was solely interested in his money and the ‘cousin’ was in fact her boyfriend.
Amy Tan, though she is busy on her book tour for The Valley of Amazement and no doubt also concocting her next best seller, took the time to write to me and say that one of her favorite Unreliable Narrators was the protagonist of The Remains of the Day, Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall.
On her recommendation I acquired said novel, and am now engrossed in it. Though I have only read the first chapter so far, I have no reason to doubt any of what the butler is telling me, but I can see ample opportunities for distortions and misunderstandings to arise. His mission to augment his staff with a former employee, one Miss Kenton, who has written to him expressing affection for Darlington Hall, has already resulted in his employer, Mr Farraday, insinuating that he had a romantic interest in her–much to his chagrin. One can imagine that Miss Kenton has an agenda, and an affection for something or someone other than Darlington Hall.
Many of the blurbs describe The Remains of the Day as a comedy of manners. Indeed, the milieu is similar to BBC shows such as Upstairs, Downstairs or Downton Abbey, and as for comedy of manners, it compares to Oscar Wilde plays like Lady Windermere’s Fan or The Importance of Being Earnest. Except that it is all internal monologue, with some dialogue accompanied by rather lengthy descriptions of his own thoughts and reactions to what is said.
I am anticipating that his journey to rendezvous with Miss Kenton will result in him widening his focus from the mundane concerns of a butler to the more existential question of his place in the scheme of things.
And of course I expect beaucoup hijinks to ensue.