Tag Archives: Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

Killing a novel is easy (authors are a bit trickier, but that’s a theory for another day). Off the top of my head: The Reader, Atonement, The Hours—although this last one I found difficult not to enjoy. You must know what I’m talking about. Films, books: most of the time it’s either one or the other. Exceptions exist, but in general you always end up destroying one, and if I have to choose I’d of course save the book. Reading trumps watching any day (except when they do the reverse and make novels out of movies, in which case the latter wins). What I’m trying to say is: I made a vow to stop my book-killing spree, and so planned to finish reading Never Let Me Go first before watching it.

The book spans the lives of Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy. Narrated in flashbacks, it begins with Kathy reminiscing about their shared childhood in mysterious Hailsham. Prodded by their meeting together for the first time after many years, she looks back on the rest of their history and tries to make sense of her present in light of the haunting past.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, but even as I was reading it another level of my consciousness dissected the craft that went into its creation. Discovery: something poignant permeates Ishiguro’s writing, so subtly that it takes you by surprise. I did not expect to, but I identified so deeply with the characters—tender, innocent, frail as they are—that towards the end I found myself seized by a tremendous hope for their happiness. But there exists so much room for disconnection: in the unsaid, in understandings that turn into misunderstandings, in the expansion of trivialities in place of actual conversation. In Oliver Ortega’s poem “Ilang Sandali Lamang”: “Sabi nila, ang / isa sa pinakamalaking / problema / ang kung paano / sasabihin ang problema. / Kaya nagsimula / tayong maghiwa / ng mansanas / kaysa mag-usap.” We never talk about the most important things. This is tragedy.

A few days ago I promised Angel I’d finish this book soon so I can return it to her and “move on.” Ace teased me about not being able to “let it go,” and though I laughed it off then, I think now that it is true: some part of me will never be able to surrender this.

Because somewhere underneath, a part of us stayed like that: fearful of the world around us, and—no matter how much we despised ourselves for it—unable quite to let each other go.

‘We were right for each other once.’

My heart had done a little leap, because in a single stroke, with that little laugh of agreement, it felt as though Tommy and I had come close together again after all the years.

‘Why would he know? How could he possibly know what Chrissie would have felt? What she would have wanted? It wasn’t him on that table, trying to cling onto life. How would he know?’

So that feeling came again, even though I tried to keep it out: that we were doing all of this too late; that there’d once been a time for it, but we’d let that go by…

‘You say you’re sure? Sure that you’re in love? How can you know it? You think love is so simple?’

‘It wasn’t really you, what you were doing, I know that. But I saw you and it broke my heart. And I’ve never forgotten.’

And so we stood like that, at the top of that field, for what seemed like ages, not saying anything, just holding each other, while the wind kept blowing and blowing at us, tugging our clothes, and for a moment, it seemed like we were holding onto each other because that was the only way to stop us being swept away into the night.

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The Remains of the Day

Late last year I suffered a book-borrowing frenzy. That afternoon, I exited the Rizal Library carrying a stack of four books: Don Quixote, The Reader, Flights of Love, and The Remains of the Day. I finished this last one sometime last week, and I have to say that out of all those books, I enjoyed it the most. Because of it, I am now halfway through Kazuo Ishiguro’s other novel Never Let Me Go.

The Remains of the Day is narrated by Stevens, an old-fashioned English butler embarking on a leisurely drive through the countryside. As he looks back on his thirty years of service to Lord Darlington, he recalls certain memories and ruminates on their past implications as well as subsequent significance in his life. These recollections are triggered by a letter from Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper with whom Stevens had a close personal relationship until her retirement more than twenty years earlier, and whom he plans to visit for “professional reasons” before the end of his motoring trip.

The book finds a unique narrative voice in Stevens, who has a charismatic, roundabout manner of speech in perfect keeping with his character. His speech portrays him as a charming, prudish old man incapable of casual socialization despite his exemplary skills in social grace. He is the kind of man who uses words like “evidently” and “ultimately” too often, who spends hours contemplating the concept of “dignity.” This he values above all else as the final, great-making quality of a butler. Based on this principle, he leads a life of absolute professionalism at the risk of personal dishonesty, and finds its results in tremendous unhappiness.

Whatever the blurbs say, the most striking relationship I found in this book is not the one between Stevens and Lord Darlington, but between him and Miss Kenton. The author illustrates their charming romance through curiously veiled dialogues that force the reader to look between lines for hints of true feeling. And even for Stevens, it is only towards the end that he sees the truth in all those years of pretending. The book closes with his solitary reflections on “the remains of the day”: how he arrived at that point in his life, why he’s still there, and what comfort he can take from the situation. Quietly heartbreaking and poignant beyond words, it is a novel never to forget.

I have heard people describe the moment, when setting sail in a ship, when one finally loses sight of the land.

‘Stevens, are you all right?’ ‘Yes, sir. Perfectly.’ ‘You look as though you’re crying.’

‘Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?’

‘You are increasingly tired now, Miss Kenton. It used not to be an excuse you needed to resort to.’

Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton; an indefinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding. There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.

Indeed—why should I not admit it?—at that moment, my heart was breaking.

All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really—one has to ask oneself—what dignity is there in that?