Category Archives: Books

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read this whole book yesterday when I was too sick to do any university work (which I’m drowning in at the moment, this stupid Google Book Search Intellectual Property essay is driving me nuts).

Against the backdrop of post-war Britain, a butler takes a trip to see an old friend, during which he struggles with his guilt over having worked for an employer with dubious ties to the Nazi Party. The novel consists largely of Mr Stevens recalling memories and so it moves at a meandering pace, but once I adjusted to this I found it beautiful. Some parts are so poignant, like the moment Stevens describes of his father pacing a set of outdoor stone steps “as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there.” I won’t fully describe the moment as it will spoil some of its beauty, but it is a heartbreaking one.

The Remains of the Day is poignant and multifaceted, while still being very subtle. I’ve been trying to think of some way of describing how it’s a quiet, slow read but without conveying the idea that its boring, which it isn’t. I suppose the experience of reading it is not unlike that of an art historian slowly, painstakingly removing the dust and grime obscuring a painting or other artwork. Every part that slowly becomes apparent is beautiful, and gradually, quietly, more and more is revealed until, finally, where each piece fits in the larger scheme of things becomes obvious. Each memory is strong and emotional, but it takes some time to learn what they mean in the whole of the plot.

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Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I finished Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh this evening and I absolutely loved it. Told from the perspective of Charles Ryder, it focuses on his relationship with  the wealthy, intensely Catholic Flyte family in England during the 1920s.

Ryder strikes up a close friendship with the troubled but lovable Sebastian Flyte at Oxford, whether this was a physical relationship or not has been hotly debated by critics, but from my reading of the book I’ve been thinking maybe not. I think the character Cara explained this well by saying something along the lines of it being a romantic affection between them common in English and German adolescent men and their fervent friendship being part of their development. She offers the opinion that she thinks these friendships are good, as long as they don’t go on too long. Although on the other hand maybe there was something homosexual to their relationship, as Ryder’s love for Sebastian seems to be the very basis on which his later romance with Julia is formed. But I like that it’s not clear, that it requires thought and some analysis.

Throughout the novel the different spiritual beliefs of the characters grind into one another causing conflict and distance. The house is almost a character in itself, sprawling and decadent, rebuilt from the stones of an old castle. I enjoyed the romantic, nostalgic tone of Brideshead Revisited, and as someone raised as a Catholic but who now identifies themselves as agnostic I found the religious themes particularly interesting and thought-provoking, especially as they were presented through the interactions between Catholic and agnostic characters because I can relate to each perspective. Evelyn Waugh himself converted to Catholicism and I think it’s interesting that, in spite of his faith, in this novel he has painted the Christian denomination in what I felt was quite a negative light for the majority of the story. But  ultimately the work is hopeful on the subject, while not being entirely positive, because (beware spoiler) despite the way religion dooms Julia and Ryder’s romance, the epilogue hints that Ryder has converted to Catholicism when he kneels down to pray “an ancient, newly learned form of words.”