The Remains of the Day is a narrative that comprises of memories of Stevens’s service for the now deceased Lord Darlington as an English butler at Darlington Hall during and just after World War II. Told as a first person narrative, this story by Kazuo Ishiguro is mostly about regret and misplaced devotion.
Urged by his current employer, an American gentleman by the name of Mr. Farraday, Stevens decides to take a six-day road trip and leave Darlington Hall, where he worked as a butler for almost 35 years. While Stevens likes his new boss, he finds it difficult to converse with him because their personalities clash. The butler is set in his formal ways and is serious and prudent in what he chooses to say while Mr. Farraday, unlike his former employer, is not averse to indulging in some humourous and jovial “bantering”. The old butler wishes to acquire this skill of bantering and frequently expresses his desire to communicate better with his new boss. Stevens’s road trip was triggered by a letter sent by Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall who left twenty years earlier to get married. He reads into the letter that her marriage is on the rocks and that she wishes to return to her former duties. After the end of World War II, he had trouble retaining enough staff to maintain the manor so he regards it as welcome news.
We come to know through interactions that other characters have with Stevens, his former employer was manipulated into sympathizing with the Nazi cause. He even hosts dinner parties for the heads of British and German states so they can come to an amicable resolution. In the opinion of Stevens, who is blindly loyal, it is a shame the reputation of his former boss was destroyed because he misunderstood what was truly happening. During his road trip, he also talks about friendships with other butlers. It is also indicated that Stevens has inhibited feelings of a romantic nature for Miss Kenton as she comes up frequently as a subject. Although the two frequently have childish arguments over household matters, it is clear there is feeling between the pair, even if he fails miserably at being intimate and misreads her intentions.
The end of the novel reveals an obvious fact (at least to the discerning reader) about Miss Kenton, who has since become Mrs. Benn which upsets Stevens. He spent most of his life blindly trusting the choices of a man who made terrible errors of judgment and lost the one chance he had when love stared him in the face because he was blind to that too. He again chooses to be reticent and conceals how he feels and returns to Mr.Farraday, with a determination to master the art of bantering in order to please his new employer.
There is also a movie staring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson inspired by this book although the ending has variation to the novel. If you are interested in other works by this author, also check out Never Let Me Go.
I picked up this book by chance. It was the extra book you toss in your library bag when you are running short of good selections. All the books I wanted were on reserve so my last-minute choice turned out to be a surprisingly good read. Apart from Harry Potter and LOTR, I’m not a fan of anything close to science fiction (exception being Jules Verne) or fantasy.
Written by Taichi Yamada, In Search of a Distant Voice has a grim start with foreboding overtones. The main character, an immigration enforcement official by the name of Kasama Tsuneo, has to track down some Indian “illegals” without visas in a graveyard. Subtle references are made to his dark past in Portland, Oregon which gives the impression that there is a secret to unravel which drives the plot along for a while. It is made clear that he wants to put the past behind him and be ordinary. He was an illegal in the US himself so the job he has in Japan bothers his conscience. In the course of his work, something unusual happens – he gets overtaken by a “force of erotic pleasure” while he is about to capture his quarry in the graveyard and hears a woman’s voice in his head. I must admit that took me by surprise.
It seems some sort of telepathic connection has occurred between the mystery woman and Tsuneo. Then it starts getting bizarre but Yamada does a good job of persuading the reader to stick around to find out who the woman may be. Meanwhile Tsuneo tries to figure out whether he is crazy or if this woman actually exists and how such an occurrence can happen. In description, it sounds silly and unfathomable but the handling of punchy dialogue, prose and skillful interweaving of side plots such as an arranged marriage and the revelation of the secret bothering Tsuneo intrigues a reader enough to continue to the end. The narrative voice also switches between subjects and tenses in a clever enough way to make the content of the book seem distinctive in style since it could be either one or all of the following: a story about truth, a story about repentance or in the most basic sense, a ghost story. But when we reach the end, we are as illuminated by the identity of the woman as when we began.
I usually tend to hate black and white films (despite my love of vintage fashion) so it was a pleasant surprise when I found myself enraptured by one. This was the black and white rendition of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic novel Lolita by Stanley Kubrick, director and fan of the game of chess (a passion he shared in common with the author of Lolita who was also an avid lepidopterist). What a shame that Kubrick died even before editing Eyes Wide Shut properly – his films resonate with the audience so well because of his distinctive touch of style.
On opening credits, it had me spellbound on seeing a very pale and small foot having its toenails painted rather tenderly and fluffs of white cotton balls stuffed between the toes. This simple foreshadowing scene of Humbert Humbert (James Mason) painting Lolita’s (Sue Lyon) toenails is artistically composed with soothing music to match the mood. It then cuts to the first scene which has changed the order of events in the novel by putting the last event to unfold first in order to sustain interest.
The plot contains more of Kubrick’s vision despite the screenplay credit made to the original author; Vladimir Nabokov’s original content in Lolita was used sparingly in this adaptation produced in 1962. In this film, Quilty (Peter Sellers), a man similar to Humbert Humbert in Lolita’s life but lacking his naiveté, plays a more active and prominent role.
The film has been panned in the past because the eroticism was not as overt as depicted in the book and the young “nymphet” of Humbert Humbert’s infatuation looked less like a child and more like a teenager with developing curves especially when he is first tempted to stay by the sight of her in a bikini. The toning down of the sexual tension between the principal characters was mostly because the production had to be demure enough to make it by the censorship board of that time. But in doing this, Humbert Humbert is made to look less of a predator on a vulnerable young girl. This could also be due to the fact this film falls into the genre of dark comedy, hence Peter Sellers and his multiple personas. But this did make me feel uneasy and perhaps this was a clever stratagem on Kubrick’s part as this seems to be the intended feeling he wanted to evoke.
Nevertheless I found it to be an interesting interpretation that was skillfully delivered through the cinematic medium for me to remain engrossed from start to finish. For some reason, I feel that if you liked American Beauty by Sam Mendes, you will enjoy Lolita if black and white does not pose a problem for you.
We meet John who enlisted in the Army because he rebelled at school and then dropped out due to conflicts with his gentle and unassuming father who was unable to converse about anything except his one passion: coin collecting. He drifts on with life until he meets and falls in love with Savannah at the beach one day. Their initial spark for each other quickly blooms into love. Savannah, a special education student, alerts John up to the possibility his father may have a mild form of Asperger’s Syndrome which enables him to mend bridges with his Dad (who in my opinion is the true hero of this book). But the time John has with Savannah is short lived as he is in the military and has to finish his tour of duty. This book by Nicholas Sparks points out how the lives of soldiers are so different from those of civilians and how difficult it is for love to progress normally in those circumstances.
They exchange letters that speak from the heart during his service and the time for John to reunite with his girl draws closer. They have one brief meeting before he goes on leave again but he feels the nature of their relationship has changed and then Savannah confesses she had a difficult time of it after his departure. But then tragedy strikes in the form of September 11. He feels compelled to re-enlist to display his patriotism but this time he receives a blow to the heart from the girl of his dreams – she has fallen in love with someone else during their long separation. The letter he receives makes him reel with shock and realises the life he had planned has changed course because even if Savannah has moved on, he’s still in love with her. After he returns home, he decides to visit her after making some inquiries and realises that he made a mistake when it turns out her husband is an old friend and a patient in the local hospital. Although he is permitted to have a future with her from her ill husband (which I thought was patronising even if he was sick), John decides to show his love in a more courageous manner by sacrificing it.
This is why this book often gets described as a tearjerker. I did cry once when I was reading but John and Savannah felt pretty secondary to me. Their love story was bittersweet and if I’m to be honest, I thought Savannah exhibited a lot of selfishness. So I find it a waste that John is left to pine over the girl who betrayed him after spending the money obtained by selling his father’s amassed coins on her future instead of looking after his own. I think that was not the author’s intention but that’s my interpretation. The scene during which I cried was that of John’s father’s funeral because so few people knew his true worth.
Note I know there is a film on it but I have not seen it so you have to rely on the following links for thoughts on that:
I have been a little distracted as I’ve been catching up on reading a lot – think I read about eight books in the past week (look forward to more book reviews). But I did manage to find some time to watch Little Dorrit directed by Adam Smith - starring Claire Foy and Matthew MacFadyen – based on the novel by Charles Dickens. Given her timid personality, ‘Little Doormat’ could have been considered more appropriate nomenclature.
Little Dorrit was born in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison after her father’s business failed and he was unable to pay off his creditors. Born a gentleman, Mr. Dorrit can’t stand being so low in regard and manages to cultivate a position as the father of the Marshalsea with the aid of the head turnkey, Mr. Chivery (senior). His son, John, is in love with Little Dorrit although her real name is Amy. Her older sister, the snobbish and beautiful Fanny, has a job as a dancer at the theatre while her idle brother, Frederick, is a young wastrel who keeps on losing his positions due to gambling and laziness. Amy finds employment as a seamstress at the old dilapidated mansion called the House of Clennam, run by a cold-hearted, grumpy, paraplegic matriarch called Mrs. Clennam, despite her father’s objections that she is a lady and should not have to work. Meanwhile Mrs. Clennam’s son Arthur returns bearing a gold pocket watch and a message – Do Not Forget. His father has requested this as his final wish before his death. Perplexed Arthur asks his mother about the mystery but is cruelly turned away when he discloses that he does not wish to be involved in managing the family business. Before leaving, Arthur notices Amy and wishing to do her some kindness makes some enquiries about her present situation and what can be done for her.
In contrast, we have two side stories which connect with the above plot. One involves the Meagles family who have a beautiful, young daughter of marriageable age. She also has an adopted sister, a coloured child, named Harriet but she is called Tattycoram by the family. Their natural daughter has felt an attachment to Mr. Gowan, an artist, and despite their efforts to unite her with the good-hearted Arthur Clennam, they do not succeed. Meanwhile Harriet feels ill-treated by the family as she’s asked to fetch things, perform tasks and in frustration turns to the mysterious Miss Wade, who seems to be present every time Harriet feels anger at the way she is treated, for friendship. The Meagles do not like this as Miss Wade is widely perceived as someone with a bad influence. We realise this when it turns out she even associates with a French murderer by the name of Rigaud (played by Andy Serkis of LOTR‘s Gollum fame) who gives her some possessions to keep regarding Little Dorrit and her inheritance as well as the truth about the birth of Arthur Clennam so he can blackmail Arthur’s “mother”, Mrs. Clennam.
Rigaud escapes from his prison cell with Italian inmate, John Cavaletto. He takes the name Rainier and commits another murder, a barmaid. He makes the acquaintance of Flintwinch who has decided to disobey his mistress, Mrs. Clennam, and obtains the copies of documents stating the truth about the events of the past. Flintwich has lied to his mistress about destroying the documents but her old maid, Affrey, hears it all and when he discovers her spying, she is threatened. Meanwhile Cavaletto escapes the company of Rigaud and finds a residence at the home of a kind-hearted family who is always being squeezed for rent by Mr. Pancks but we discover someone completely different is the true manipulator.
Arthur employs Mr. Pancks as an investigator and finds that Mr. Dorrit is heir to a fortune. So the Dorrits resume a life of cultivation but ashamed of his past, Mr. Dorrit cuts his connections to the prison and wishes his children also do so. This includes the Chiveries, Arthur Clennam and Maggie, a dimwitted woman-child who likes to eat a lot. Used to being a caring, motherly person, Amy finds the adjustment to a life of leisure difficult unlike the others and keeps communicating with Arthur in secret as she knows he has done a great deal on behalf of her family. She also makes an acquaintance with the Gowans as she realises who Mrs. Gowan could have been. In any case, she’s in love with him while he is getting over Mr. Gowan getting married to the girl he loved. She is rebuked by her father constantly causing her much unhappiness as she used to be his favourite child, mostly due to the influence of Mrs. General, the formal etiquette trainer. Frederick, her father’s musician brother is regarded in the same manner as Amy due to their uncultivated mannerisms. Fanny, on the other hand, thrives and makes a union with the fool Edward Sparkler, a fool she can rule over with her iron thumb much to the irritation of her mother-in-law, Mrs. Merdle, who had scorned her when she was poor. Meanwhile Mr. Dorrit makes a trip to England to invest his capital in the bank belonging to Mr. Merdle and Mr. Clennam who has since become a partner with Mr. Doyce, an engineer who is having trouble finding investors as he is a foreigner, decides to put the company capital into the bank to gain interest on the advice given by Mr. Meagles and Mr. Pancks while Doyce goes off to Russia to develop his inventions. Mr. Dorrit returns to Italy (after giving a not so cordial reception to John Chivery who had the audacity to visit him even after his proposal had been rejected by Amy when she was poor) but his trip to England has unbalanced his mind and after returning to Italy, he embarrasses himself in public and finds peace in death. So does his brother, Frederick.
When Mr. Merdle commits suicide after borrowing a penknife from Fanny, it turns out that the bank was conducting major fraud by embezzling and shuffling the funds of different depositors. The tables turn for Fanny’s mother-in-law as she finds herself at the mercy of her daughter-in-law. Meanwhile Little Dorrit finds peace again in her poverty because she can start taking care of others again. She finds Arthur Clennam at the debtor’s prison and the roles are reversed when Rigaud entrusts her with the truth. Arthur’s mother makes a miraculous recovery to get up from her wheelchair and after telling the truth to Little Dorrit herself asks for forgiveness which she does and dies. Meanwhile the House of Clennam tumbles down taking Rigaud to his maker but Flintwich and Affrey escape. Amy explains the mystery to Arthur and when she explains that she has no fortune any more like him, the insensible fellow is happy to accept her love. But then Doyce returns bearing no ill will and best of all, good news.
Meanwhile Pancks has his revenge on the man who posed as a figure of benevolence while being crafty in secret, the father of Arthur Clennam’s childhood sweetheart, Flora. The Meagles family tell Henry Gowan’s mother what they really think of her son and Tattycoram returns with the documents that were in the possession of Miss Wade after discovering them. So we have a happy ending for ‘Little Doormat’, sorry I meant Little Dorrit.
It actually has been a long while since I’ve read a Bryce Courtenay because work and volunteering has kept me on my toes. But on a recent jaunt to the library, I found a sequel to The Persimmon Tree. It’s called Fishing for Stars.
So shipping magnate Nick Duncan finds his life revolving around two women: Anna Til, the exotic but damaged Eurasian obsessed with profit and Marg Hamilton, ex-Navy wife and fanatical protector of nature’s treasures. These characteristics give the two women who are loath to let Nick Duncan belong solely to the other have two vindictive names to call each other: Princess Plunder and Green Bitch. The settings are interesting as it involves the Yakuza in Japan, the military environment of Indonesia, the Pacific Islands and parts of Australia. But this is a story narrated by flashback.
Nick is grieving after losing Anna to breast cancer and is suffering from bad dreams harking back to WWII. Marg decides this is possibly the onset of PTSD and finds him an appropriate specialist. On the advice of his psychologist, Nick decides to put his story on paper; the tale of how he has lived since being a war hero. He writes about the lifelong contest of the two women and how he tried to keep each to their separate worlds until he was forced to take action.
The struggle to save Lake Pedder annoyed me with the weight given to all the politics involved but nevertheless the information was so educational that it was easy to forgive this aspect. The take on Anna Til being a BDSM dominatrix with vaginismus who had a smack habit she couldn’t kick but was cool as a cucumber in making multi-million dollar business deals was a bit much. The habit did not really count as a flaw if it didn’t impact on her ability to be a rational and calculating negotiator. Marg was described in a better and believable way but I think this book focused more on what she did than her as a character.
Still, if you have read The Persimmon Tree, reading the aftermath in Fishing for Stars is not a bad experience even if the history is rehashed for the benefit of those with poor memories. You will always be sure to learn something entirely new in the case of this writer.
This is a story about one so-called independent woman Bathsheba Everdene (who seems incredibly dependent if you think about it), her three male admirers and her propensity for poor judgement. When we first meet her, she is a beautiful but high-spirited young woman with no fortune to her name. To top it all, she saves the life of Gabriel Oak when he falls asleep in his hut and almost dies of smoke inhalation. When Gabriel asks her to reveal her name, she challenges him to find it out for himself. Upon learning her name, he visits her aunt to ask if he can court Bathsheba but is informed she has many lovers. This woman then runs after him to declare her aunt lied about her. Suddenly the conversation takes a turn to discuss a marital union between them because Gabriel assumes she must be interested but she assures him that she does not love him. He, the silly fool, spends the rest of his life devoted to her while she indulges in all manner of follies.
Gabriel Oak happens to be a poor shepherd who loses his farm after an accident befalls all of his sheep due because of a rookie dog that misdirects them to fall off a cliff. Once this happens, he seeks new employment in the town of Weatherbury. It is not going too well for him until one day he helps fend off fire from a farmhouse. It turns out Bathsheba is the mistress as she inherited it from a deceased uncle. She offers him work as a shepherd.
Meanwhile she sends off a Valentine with the words Marry Me to neighbor Farmer Boldwood as a joke. The duped farmer takes this jest seriously and he becomes a relentless and persistent suitor much to her annoyance. He is also refused the offer of marriage he makes to Bathsheba because she does not love him. But he does get her to say she will reconsider her refusal.
On that night, she meets the third and most despicable of her three admirers. He is a handsome soldier known as Sergeant Troy. What Bathsheba does not know is that he impregnated a local servant girl called Fanny Robinson who had gone missing. She embraces his suggestion of marriage.
When Fanny returns, Troy arranges a time to meet her; he loves Fanny. Bathsheba comes to realise she has made terrible decisions. Fanny, overworked and exhausted, dies in childbirth on her way to meet Troy. Embarrassed and ashamed by his actions, Troy fakes a suicide and joins a performing circus.
Meanwhile Farmer Boldwood makes the best of his adversary’s ‘death’ by resuming his courtship. His repeated persistence secures him a result when he gets Bathsheba to promise she will marry him in six years if her missing husband does not return. Unfortunately, Troy chooses that night to reappear after hearing she is prospering. Enraged by his intrusion, poor Boldwood has his revenge by shooting Troy. This leads to a jail sentence for the misused farmer for whom you can’t help but feel sorry.
Finally there is an opportunity for hard-working and faithful Gabriel who has become a flourishing bailiff to reunite with Bathsheba and his devotion to her is rewarded when she finally says yes.
For a male, Thomas Hardy, the author of this work is very intuitive about how the female mind works. It’s a shame he did not dabble in relationship counselling. I believe he would have done very well. Even if Gabriel finds happiness with this undeserving trollop of a woman, it is a bit of a sting she rejected him when he lacked any money and accepted him when he had it.
It starts out with the protagonist Ruby getting fired from her job as an investment banker in London. Used to being financially well off, she is devastated when her Louboutins – towering high-heeled pumps with signature red soles – arrive on that very day and she is forced to return them. Snubbed by the email sent by the HR staff, she creates a cutting reply and without thinking of the consequences hits send. By the next day her email has gone viral even to the extent of The Financial Times. To drown her sorrows, she indulges in a case of Australian Pinot Noir. On waking up the next day, she realises in a drunken stupor she has booked a flight to Melbourne departing on that night.
With the assistance of her efficient sister, Fran, Ruby is sent to stay with her lesbian aunt in the Yarra Valley. Although she gets off on the wrong foot with Debs, her aunt’s partner who happens to be a lawyer with a good sense of style, they ultimately resolve their differences. Despite not having a working visa, Ruby is offered a job as a financial policy advisor to the Federal Leader of the Opposition by the Chief of Staff during an impromptu visit to a political fundraiser. So upon accepting despite having no background on party views and economic policies, she finds herself enmeshed in the election campaign trail and dubbed Roo.
Thrown headfirst into the field of Australian politics, she finds herself enjoying the hectic pace despite suffering wardrobe malfunctions, numerous media related faux pas and relationship mishaps with men of dubious character. Despite her rookie status, Ruby makes suggestions which work well when the Treasurer overthrows the current PM and calls an early election. This is eerie and reminiscent of the K -Rudd situation but the strangest thing is that this book was written prior to that. It gives meaning to life imitating art certainly!
While Campaign Ruby is humorous and uses brand names to a suffocating extent, it is still enjoyable. Just watch out for the peppering of cliches. But as political chick lit spin, it’s a great read.