For the love of flawed characters, Ishiguro is king

I know there are literary purists out there who groan  every time a movie adaptation of their favorite Jane Austen novel comes out. I can sympathize with them;  that feeling of betrayal when the book that first opened their eyes to literature is given a less than authentic, or attractive portrayal — and I don’t believe ‘betrayal’ is too much of an exaggeration, what with reading being the intensely personal experience that it is.

Presuming then that some of you might put yourselves in that camp, does it horrify you to read that I actually quite like movie adaptations of books? [Pause for gasps] Yes, it’s true. I see them as opportunities to spread the book love, as it were. Not only do they keep literature in the realm of public discourse, always a good thing, but they inspire us (or remind us) to read the book on which the film is based, if we haven’t already done so. And if nothing else, the adaptations that really are terrible make for great nerdy bash-fests afterwards.

So when Mark Romanek’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2005 novel Never Let Me Go came out in cinemas here in the UK a few weeks ago, it reminded me that I had yet to read anything by the famed author. Immediately, I set out to rectify the situation. Me and everyone else, it seemed, as all copies of Never Let Me Go were missing from my local. Resolving that I was in no hurry to read that particular book I gladly settled for a used copy of The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro’s 1989 novel that won him the Booker prize of fiction. After finishing it last night, I can say that I look forward to reading other works by the British author.

I mentioned Jane Austen earlier not randomly as she has been on my mind since finishing The Remains of the Day. Like Austen, Ishiguro has a knack for portraying those strained and painfully awkward moments which abound in British fiction as a result of characters being unable to express, or even admit to harboring, certain emotions. (I can say that, I married a Brit.) A scene that comes to mind occurs between the protagonist, Mr. Stevens, who is a butler of Darlington Hall throughout the years surrounding WWII, and Miss Kenton, the housekeeper. At this moment Miss Kenton has walked in on Mr. Steven’s while he is reading a romantic novel. Her curiosity is piqued when he attempts to hide the book. Incidentally, the two are in love with one another though neither will admit it.

Then she was standing before me, and suddenly the atmosphere underwent a peculiar change — almost as if the two of us had been suddenly thrust on to some other plane of being altogether. I am afraid it is not easy to describe clearly what I mean here. All I can say is that everything around us suddenly became very still; it was my impression that Miss Kenton’s manner also underwent a sudden change; there was a strange seriousness in her expression, and it struck me she seemed almost frightened.
‘Please, Mr. Stevens, let me see your book.’

Of course, what Miss Kenton is asking here is that Stevens show her his heart, open up to her, admit his feelings, which even in their final reunion at the end of the book he is unable to do. Sigh… don’t you love flawed characters?

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