Thursday, April 20, 2017

#CBR9 Review #08: Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I went into this book without a single piece of information regarding what it was about: it was an impulse digital rental based on the fact that I was preeeeeetty sure I had heard the name of the novel before (or maybe because of the movie which I just realized also exists??). And that's it. Yet, despite no expectations, it was still totally not what I expected, in terms of subject matter, writing style, etc. How is that possible? In any case, I found myself struggling to begin reading this one, but then things got easier as it all started rolling along. I wouldn't say I loved it, but it's not bad. Let's dive in:

The Remains of the Day follows a butler in a decent sized English house named Stevens, as he makes his way through the countryside on a little holiday, in an attempt to gain some more help from the household in the form of an old housekeeper, Miss Kenton. The two had previously worked together under the employment of one Lord Darlington, who had been host to many English aristocrats as well as German officers, etc during the time of WWII. As Stevens makes his way to visit Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), we see many flashbacks of Lord Darlington, and different incidents between Miss Kenton and Stevens during their time together. Through these tales, we see many themes emerge such as that of dignity, what makes a great butler, poise, how some people never show their true feelings, and how many feel that they are not qualified to have opinions on matters that they really should as it affects them greatly. All in all, there is a lot going on in terms of relationship politics as well as the politics of the time.

But speaking of time, something I had difficulty with in this book was really determining what time-period certain events were, how old characters were at any given point in the story, etc etc. Perhaps this is because I was not paying close enough attention at times? Stevens would go on lengthy tangents all over the place bringing up various people and events that would ultimately unwind back to the present day, but there was a bit of jumping around to follow that I got lost in at one point during reading.

Anyhow, at it's core, The Remains of the Day centers on a theme of looking back, and how events of the past has led us to where we are. Miss Kenton and Stevens clearly have affection for one another (got those Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey vibes, y'all), but there is a sense that opportunities were missed, and perhaps had certain moments gone a different way, things could have ended up far differently than they did. Isn't that just the way lots of people go through life? Thinking about what could have been and so holding on to the past, when the future still lays ahead of them? Because of this central theme, the end of the novel does hold both a bit of a melancholic but also hopeful tone. It's quite subtle and beautiful, and yet sometimes these subtleties throughout the novel were hard to pick up on for me, until really the very end.

I think the difficulties I had were partially to do with Kazuo Ishiguro's writing style being a bit different than what I'm used to: I almost backed out of this one early on as the writing is very particular to convey the specific manner of Stevens, which is indeed very stiff and proper at all times. Now, this is great in conveying what the character is like, but this stiffness does come off as a bit closed-off and too professional at times (despite being written in a personal journal or something of the like). This is why sometimes visual mediums are great for this kind of thing, as you can see posturing, body language, sly glances, etc (one of the reasons why I adore the 2006 movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, as it really helped me get into the relationships and characters a bit more than when I had previously read the novel). Though, perhaps this is more of a personal issue, in that I just needed to get used to the writing and therefore it was a bit harder to pick up on it's subtleties than say, with a manner I am more familiar with.

All in all, I would say that this novel didn't have a strong start for me, as I struggled a bit to get into it, but the ending was quite nice and drew on more emotions and connected with me more than the rest of the novel did. There wasn't really a big climactic moment, so the whole thing kind of passed along at one pace with a pretty constant mood, and some distinction or variety there may have been nice for the pace and overall experience of the novel. That being said, it is a decent read, and does hit on some feelings that I think a lot of people experience in our world, more or less in terms of regret from the past, and the inability to get past this to work on the future. I mean, I even experience this from time to time and I am only in my twenties! So for all that, The Remains of the Day is a solid middle-ground read for me.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]

Thursday, April 13, 2017

#CBR9 Review #07: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

This one started out strong and intriguing, but rather than growing as time went on, it ultimately got a bit muddy throughout the second half. Overall, the tone of this collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett is quick-witted and quirky, and would you expect anything else? However, it ultimately didn’t quite live up to the potential I felt was established within the beginning of the novel.

Good Omens is centered on the apocalypse, which is to be brought about by the antichrist. But things are amok, as the child that was supposed to be planted within one particular family in order to begin the apocalypse actually ends up with another, and therefore lacks in any demonic or angelic influence throughout his life. But regardless of where he is, heaven and hell want a war, and everyone is trying to figure out just how to stop it, including a young witch whose ancestor made incredibly accurate prophecies as to how things would turn out during this apocalyptic showdown.

Now this sounds pretty serious, but the whole switcheroo is actually quite funny, as well as the strange prophecies and way all the characters come to connect to one another, including some neat personifications of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (in this version, Pestilence being replaced by Pollution). But when I say all the characters, this leads me to one of the biggest issues of this novel, which is that there are just too many. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy novels and stories with a lot of characters, but the problem I found here was that they don’t all seem to be really necessary or to truly fit together within the same story. A little trimming of extraneous storylines that they suddenly had to wrap up could have been a benefit, as it wouldn’t feel like loose-ends were just suddenly being shuffled in to make sure everything was covered.

In terms of storyline, I found myself very engrossed and interested in the first half of the novel. There was some serious potential set up, with a lot of quick-witted humor and absurdity. This fun tone managed to continue throughout the novel, yet the second half really fell short for me personally after such a strong beginning. The whole second half seemed to be creating such a long and dramatic buildup to… a conclusion that felt like nothing. Like they teased a battle or some kind of conflict and yet there was just talk then, “Everything is cool, see ya later.” You know how in the last Twilight novel they prepare for a big battle, then just talk for a few minutes about the battle and everyone goes home without there actually being a fight? Yeah. It felt kind of like that to me. It’s not like a big showdown is really necessary in every story, but with just such a long period of time building up to this one event, you’d think there would be more to it, you know?

I mean, there are definitely some intriguing themes present in Good Omens regarding humanity, the absurdity of the way of the world, the concept of fate, etc, but these are almost overshadowed by the continued attempts to be quirky and witty over coherent. However I want to give a seriously big shoutout to my favourite line in the book, which was, “Most books on witchcraft will tell you that witches work naked. This is because most books on witchcraft are written by men.” I actually stopped and sent that bit to my friends because I loved it so much!

So, overall, I’m not really sure about Good Omens. I was interested while I was reading, but also… not??? It’s a mixed bag. I can definitely see others liking it given that it’s pretty quick-witted throughout, but it just failed to completely hold my attention the entire way to the end.

[Be sure to visit the Cannonball Read main site!]