The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

remains

Reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro seemed very apropos considering the popularity of Downton Abbey. Random House Retreat brought this modern classic from 1989 to my attention recently with their online read-along in honour of the reissue of the book in August, ahead of the 2015 release of Ishiguro’s new novel, Buried Giant. I watched the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson many years ago, but this is my first time reading the novel.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
Mr. Stevens is an English butler who takes tremendous pride in his profession, a profession that has largely shaped his worldview and identity. Embarking on a road trip to meet his former colleague, Miss Kenton, Stevens reminisces twenty years back to the events leading up to the last time he saw her. He was loyally serving Lord Darlington and ensuring the smooth running of Darlington Hall. When Miss Kenton joined the staff, he was confused by her stubbornness and temper, but managed to establish a working relationship that was agreeable to both. At the time, Lord Darlington was hosting various political and military people in the interest of advancing his pro-Germany sentiments. Although his father’s death and Miss Kenton’s engagement begged for his attention, Stevens could only make time for his duties. Now that he is serving the new American owner of Darlington Hall and so much of the genteel world before the war has disappeared, Stevens questions all he has done and believed.

THE GOOD
The Remains of the Day really impressed me with the subtle way you learn about Stevens and his past by following his not entirely reliable narration. Events in the story are never fully explained and everything is inferred as Stevens sifts through his thoughts and memories. I liked how the reader has to think about what Stevens says and does not say to get the full picture. It’s up to us to piece together what Stevens himself cannot admit about his choices.

THE BAD
At times, Stevens rambles a bit too much. Otherwise, I have no complaints and loved this book!

CONCLUSION
Both The Remains of the Day and Downton Abbey seem to attach a romanticism to the old hierarchical system of domestic work in Britain. As described by Stevens, being a butler commanded a certain amount of power and respect with peers. In this case, Stevens takes his role extremely seriously to the detriment of his personal life. Right up to the end, unable to control the tears, Steven brushes aside his feelings of loss to focus on being a better butler to his new master. (Can you imagine calling your boss “master”?)

Overall, I enjoyed The Remains of the Day because it’s light in tone, but Kazuo Ishiguro stirs the emotions so potently. The story made me reflect on how fragile choices can be and the heart-sinking devastation of regret at the end of one’s life.

Blogger Diaries #6

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CAITLIN MORAN
I was sad not make it to Word on the Street in Toronto this past weekend, but I did have the opportunity to meet journalist and best-selling author, Caitlin Moran! Caitlin’s first work a fiction, How to Build A Girl, released this week and the book signing just happened to be taking place in my office building. If you’re familiar with Caitlin, you know the girl has rock n’ roll in her soul, so very curious that they would hold her event in the financial district and not somewhere — ahem — cooler.

A few amusing things happened while I waited in line:

  • Us early birds in line got into a earnest discussion about who would go up when she arrived because no one wanted to go first!
  • We hadn’t been waiting for very long, but one woman left the line and gave her book to one of the organizers, saying “I’m too Type A to wait.” What does that mean? Is she even a fan?
  • A mom with a stroller joined the line and I laughed when I saw that her baby boy’s t-shirt said: “Feminism”.
  • When my turn was next, an organizer asked if Caitlin’s old friend from London could butt in to quickly say hi. I was like, “Uh…”, but she walked away. Not like I’m going to stand in the way of Caitlin’s reunion, right?

Caitlin is gorgeous, so full of energy and enthusiasm for her fans. She hugged everyone that she met and chatted like she knew them forever. She didn’t sit on the chair provided, but chose to perch on the table so she could get up and greet each person. I was so excited to see her, I was shaking.

Caitlin told me the book tour was great because she was having a whole week away from kids and I asked if I could join her entourage because I needed a week off from my kids too! I mentioned listening to How To Be A Woman by audio book and she told me the How To Build A Girl audio book is narrated by Louise Brealey (eek! Molly from Sherlock) who is her very good friend.

caitlinmoran

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BOOKS FINISHED

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder – I loved this book so much! Read my review.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – An oldie, but a real goodie. An incredibly moving story, so thoughtfully written.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton – Secrets and mysteries plague a very dysfunctional family in 17th century Amsterdam. A real page-turner!

Boundless by Kathleen Winter – An account of her Arctic voyage through the Northwest Passage. Beautiful, personal and complex, I had mixed feelings about this book that I’m still sorting through.

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UP NEXT
Jackaby by William Ritter – It bothers me that this book is a knock-off of Sherlock Holmes. Trying to read it and not judge.

Chez l’Arabe by Mireille Silcoff– I’m a big fan of Mireille’s National Post column. This is turning out to be the year of the short story for me.

Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan – Jim nails the absurdity of modern parenting.

How To Build A Girl by Caitlin Moran – I didn’t absolutely love How To Be A Woman, but I adore Caitlin so I’m going in with an open mind and an open heart.

How is your September going? What are you reading?

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

Click to visit Carrie Snyder's blog.

If you’re going to read Girl Runner, cancel all of your plans and get comfortable because you are not going to want to put this book down. Agnetha Smart’s story is so captivating and consumed me so fully, I read the book in 2 days and I’m a slow reader!

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE AUTHOR
Carrie Snyder is a Canadian author whose first book, Hair Hat, was nominated for a Danuta Gleed Award. Carrie’s second book, The Juliet Stories, was a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Award for fiction. She blogs at Obscure Canlit Mama.

THE STORY
At the age of 104, Agnetha Smart may be frail of both body and mind, but her memories of a life full of love and disconnection, glory and failure, and running – always running toward or away from something – remains deep within. From a tumultuous childhood with her family in rural Ontario, to a working girl in the big city of Toronto, to competing as a Canadian athlete in the 1920 Olympics in Amsterdam, Aggie always strives to push the limits that try to restrain her. It takes a lifetime of disappointment and regret for Aggie to realize that it was not her destiny to be anchored to one person or one place. She was born to keep moving.

THE GOOD
Girl Runner is simply a damn good story. I really liked Aggie Smart because she is a spirited girl who is painfully and intuitively aware that no one understands her. In her winter years and as a more confident woman, she is brazen and doesn’t care what anyone thinks. There was something so satisfying about following her journey from barefooted little girl to don’t-count-her-out-just-yet centenarian. Possibly because I am a woman on my own journey who could relate to some of the things Aggie experienced and felt.

THE BAD
So much happens in Girl Runner, it may have been nice if some storylines were fleshed out a little more fully. For instance, I would have liked to have learned more about sister Frannie’s affair or brother Robbie’s secret family.

CONCLUSION
Although Carrie Snyder’s narrative slips back and forth in time and location, the story remains solid and coherent. It almost felt like I was caught up in the delirium of Aggie Smart’s memories, tumbling through the years as she looks back on her life, yet completely understanding how all of the pieces fall together. I loved this book from start to finish, and there was very little I disliked. As a very pleasant introduction to Carrie Snyder’s work, I highly recommend Girl Runner.

4/5 Stars

NOTE: I received a copy of Girl Runner with much thanks to House of Anansi, but this in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in my review.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

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In 2012, a survey revealed that 28% of all Young Adult books (conventionally categorized as fiction for 12-17 year-olds) was purchased by adults aged between 30 and 44. I thought this was a fascinating sign of the times (Gen-X anyway); like forty-year old cosplayers at Comicon or CEOs skateboarding to work or hipster moms folding up their Bugaboo strollers before jumping into the mosh pit. None of us want to grow up!

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE BOOK
Adapted from J.M. Barrie’s play of the same name, Peter Pan is the much beloved story about a boy who refuses to grow up. We meet Peter and his fairy friend, Tinker Bell, thanks to the three Darling children: Wendy, John and Michael. When Peter comes to the Darling home one night to retrieve the shadow he left behind, the children awaken and he convinces them to fly with him to Neverland so that Wendy can become his mother. On the mysterious island, the Darling children are introduced to the Lost Boys, a rascaly band of five who have lost their parents, and eventually the children form their own family. The Darling children enjoy many adventures while on Neverland, including encounters with mermaids, the Piccaninny native tribe and a gripping confrontation with Peter’s archenemy, Captain Hook and his gang of pirates. Eventually the Darling children realize they have been away from home for too long and decide to return to their parents. Peter promises Wendy he will come back once a year for her, but he often forgets and one day when he returns to the Darling household, he is devastated to discover that Wendy has grown up.

THE MOVIE
A favourite from my childhood, I thought I would introduce the kids to the classic Disney adaptation of Peter Pan from 1953. The movie sticks closely to the original story, although unfortunately this includes some of the cringe-worthy sexist and racial stereotyping. I was worried about some of the violence, but felt the level was acceptable for my kids. As a musical, the movie is very entertaining and includes the very popular “You Can Fly” which my enchanted kids into wishing they could fly too. I thought it was interesting that in the opening credits, Disney acknowledges that the J.M. Barrie bequeathed the rights to Peter Pan to the Hospital for Sick Children in London.

THE GOOD
Unlike some other children’s classics I have read as an adult, I relished Peter Pan’s energy and contagious spirit of adventure both in the book and the movie. Now that we’ve watched the movie, I can’t wait to read the book with my kids.

THE BAD
What stood out for me the most in Peter Pan was how Wendy Darling immediately took on a domestic role for all of the males. She was not only expected to be a motherly figure, telling bedtime stories and tucking Lost Boys into bed, but a housekeeper. Sometimes she never leaves the Neverland home because she’s too busy mending and misses out on some of the gallivanting Peter and the boys enjoy. Wendy happily takes on this role, but I suspect it is only because she hopes to win Peter’s love. Of course, Peter is too immature and busy being irresponsible to notice. At least in the movie, Wendy is not depicted in this manner.

CONCLUSION
Hard to believe over a hundred years after its publication in 1911, Peter Pan continues to excite the imagination of both young and old with the idea of a never-ending childhood. Although Peter Pan is a delightful classic book written for children, I think it can be enjoyed both by kids and grown-ups. What kid wouldn’t want to live on an island, swimming with mermaids and fighting pirates, with no adults and no expectation to grow up? Heck, what adult wouldn’t?

3/5 Stars

I read and watched Peter Pan as part of Doing Dewey’s Books 2 Movies Challenge.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

landline

I always wonder whether it’s a good idea to start with a new-to-me author’s latest novel or go with one of their popular, older novels. I’ve been curious about Rainbow Rowell and Eleanor and Park, in particular, but new releases are always in my face and ready to go at the library. So here we go with Landline!

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
Georgie McCool has always wanted to be TV sitcom writer and she’s living that dream in Los Angeles alongside her long-time best friend, Seth. She works long hours and sometimes has to break her promises. Unfortunately, this does not sit well with her husband, Neal, who is a stay-at-home dad to their two daughters. When an opportunity arises for Seth and Georgie to create their own TV show, Georgie decides not to travel with her family to Omaha for Christmas with Neal’s parents. As a result, an emotional rift that had been threatening her and Neal for some time rips wide open. In a huff, Neal takes the kids and leaves Georgie behind. Devastated, Georgie starts to unravel emotionally. Has Neal left her? Is her marriage over? She desperately tries to reach him by phone but can’t get through. Georgie flees to her mother’s home and hides in her former bedroom to obsess over her marriage. Here she find her old, yellow phone and soon discovers that when she dials his number, the phone magically connects her with Neal. But not her forty-something husband, the much younger Neal she dated in college!

THE GOOD
The first half of Landline is quite funny, as Seth, Georgie and their sidekick, Scotty, work frantically on scripts for their secret TV show presentation. Georgie and Seth’s friendship is the highlight of the book for me. Seth would immediately raise any sensible girl’s red flag, as he is attention hungry, vain and snarky, and yet I still adored him and loved his banter with Georgie. The book subtly suggests that Seth has always had romantic feelings for Georgie and at one stage, I thought he actually might be a better match for her than Neal.

THE BAD
The novelty of a magical telephone was underwhelming for me. Georgie could have easily reminisced about her relationship with Neal without it. But thanks to that phone, young Neal and Georgie speak quite frequently resulting in pages and pages of what I call “young love conversation”, as in when couples have nothing left to talk about, but don’t want to hang up and just speak drivel. Bored me to tears!

CONCLUSION
Landline was a good story and there were many things I liked about it, such as the humour and pop culture references to 80s and 90s TV shows, and Georgie’s friendship with Seth as mentioned above. Georgie is a hopelessly overwhelmed working mom who wanted to do better by her family, and for this reason I found her character likeable in the beginning. However, I quickly grew tired of her floundering and inability to get her act together. And while I appreciated her comedic last-ditch attempt to save her marriage, save Christmas, etc., even getting a bit choked up reading the ending, I had emotionally checked out of Landline many many chapters ago.

3/5 Stars

Did you like Landline? What Rainbow Rowell books have you read?