We first meet an old couple in a village, Axl and Beatrice, who are plagued by fading memories of the past and become aware of this fact. After speaking with an old woman, Beatrice persuades her husband Axl, to accompany her on a journey to see their son. When weary, they pause to rest at a Saxon village which is experiencing a commotion. Their host suggests the mist that permeates the air rendering the memories of everyone into fragments could be the work of a God who felt regret. When the couple sets off the next morning to a hillside monastery to consult an old monk, they have two companions who are fugitives foisted on them: Wistan, a skilled warrior and a boy with a suspicious wound, Edwin. Strangely enough the warrior appears to recognise Axl. This unexpected addition to their party makes their journey a less peaceful one.
Once they bump into a character from British folklore charged with a strange duty he never accomplished for which he is maligned, the true mission of the Saxon warrior comes to light. Their stay at the monastery puts the old couple at risk but a friend they made comes to their aid and the two parties are split up. The mission the warrior is charged with is also one the couple promise to undertake when some children mistake them as Elders sent by God and request it so their parents may return to them. While the quest is accomplished, the results of it are going to disturb the peace once maintained by the enforced mist.
The couple faces several dangers, including those who seek to separate them from each other, but it appears Axl has far more to fear from the memories of the past returning than Beatrice. While I didn’t like the fantasy elements incorporated into this and the strange ending, what I did enjoy was how The Buried Giant explored memory: what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget.
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.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is about the intersecting lives of three students from Hailsham who end up reuniting after leaving the school. It is clear as we keep reading, as the narrative is told as a flashback by 31-year-old Kathy, this is a special school and so are the attending students. They are isolated in the school grounds and have no memory of how they entered and instead of teachers, they have Guardians. But they keep up the appearance of being regular, of being normal, of fitting by taking cues from books, other people and television. But they start to realise, at least Kathy and Tommy do, that information is being hidden from them by the Guardians. This is made obvious by bits and pieces the Guardian let slip when they are not careful.
Kathy and Tommy find they are unable to have babies, pursue careers that involve being celebrities or avoid the fate for which they were created. Ruth on the other hand desperately wants to believe her future will be full of promise and speaks if it will be so although the readers would just feel pity for her ignorance. Her fate at the end though triggers some empathy as she shows that she does have some heart. Once the students discover the truth about the mysteries of their past and what actually awaits them in the future, you realise the world created by Ishiguro is seriously dystopian.
In the beginning, I found the start a bit slow and contemplated giving up since it seemed boring. But I’m glad I kept reading because the pace picked up once the descriptions of Hailsham life gained prominence. It is food for thought about the possibilities of our awaiting future, even if the novel is a work of imagination. I have heard it has been adapted into a movie as well although I confess I didn’t hear much about its release. The title of the book, Never Let Me Go, comes from an old 1950s song by Judy Bridgewater. It is based on a poignant scene from the book about a little girl’s personal interpretation of the lyrics while she dances to it. The girl is Kathy.
Sometimes the way Kathy narrates can be distant but I feel this preserves the twist that awaits us which is sinisterly hinted at throughout the book. Like the reader, even Kathy herself is not privy to this secret. I think this works in the book’s favour and therefore inspired me to finish reading.