“Call Me by Your Name” by André Aciman

Call Me By Your Name

It was only after I had seen the movie “Call Me by Your Name”—which was nominated for four Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards and won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay—did I realize that it was based on a book. The movie was excellent, but the book was not very well known prior to the movie. It would be fair to say that it had not really made a “splash” in literary circles, which was somewhat unusual as most movie adaptations are made of books that are highly acclaimed. I typically do not like to watch the movie adaptation of a book before reading it first, but in this case, I wanted to find out more about the book that had inspired such a beautiful movie.

Call Me by Your Name is what is commonly referred to as a “coming-of-age” story of an adolescent going from youth to adulthood. The adolescent here is a 17-year-old American-Italian boy named Elio, the setting is Italy, and the time period is in the 1980s. While the story is being narrated by Elio twenty years later, it is almost entirely an account of the one summer when a visitor, Oliver, comes to stay in Elio’s house. Elio’s father is a professor, and every summer, he takes in a doctoral student as a house guest for six weeks as an apprentice of sorts, who helps him with some academic work while simultaneously engaged in some academic activity of his own. In the case of Oliver, he is working on a manuscript for a book, and a summer in the beautiful Italian countryside seems like the perfect place to do it in.

Not every “coming-of-age” story is about love and sex, but this one is. And what makes it especially distinctive is that both Elio and Oliver are male. Elio feels an overpowering attraction towards Oliver from the minute he sees him, and Oliver eventually reciprocates after holding out for a few weeks. The book chronicles their intense and passionate relationship over that summer, and while this is not one of those “happily ever after” love stories, it represents the most meaningful relationship of their lives for both Elio and Oliver, as they realize when they get a chance to meet years later.

While the movie adaptation of Call Me by Your Name was referred to as a “gay” love story, I found it interesting that neither the word “gay” nor the word “homosexual” are ever mentioned in the book. Of course, social norms were a lot less liberal in the mid-80s, and while Elio often feels “shame,” especially after sex, he never ever feels that it is wrong to experience the overwhelming love he feels for Oliver. The story is told entirely in the form of an internal monologue in Elio’s head, making us experience the depth of his emotions in all of their complexity. The fact that these are no different from the teenage angst experienced by a “heterosexual” adolescent points to the universality of human emotions. Not everyone may be able to identify with the attraction Elio feels for another man, but we can all identify with the intense, overpowering, and often tortured emotions that typically accompany the throes of first love.

Call Me by Your Name
Author: André Aciman
Original Publisher and Date: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux (January 2007)
Reprint Publisher and Date: Picador Media Tie-in edition (October 2017)

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith

Strangers on a Train

I was alerted to this book by the recent write-up of The Kind Worth Killing, which was seemingly inspired by Strangers on a Train. While I had not read any books by Patricia Highsmith before, I have seen other movies based on her novels including The Talented Mr. Ripley and Carol, both of which were very good. Strangers on a Train was her first novel and it was made into a movie by none other than Alfred Hitchcock shortly after it was published in 1950. The book, therefore, came with an impressive back story and I was prepared to be wowed, especially given that I enjoy thrillers in general.

The plot line of Strangers on a Train is very intriguing. Two men, Guy and Bruno, meet on a train, they both have someone in their lives they’re unhappy with, but instead of “sucking it up” as most people do, one of the men, Bruno, floats the idea of getting rid of their respective nemeses by doing exchange murders — he would kill Guy’s ex-wife and Guy, in turn, would kill his father. Like most people, Guy shies away from Bruno when he proposes this plan and is very happy to see the last of him when the train journey ends. Or so he thinks. Bruno actually goes ahead with killing Guy’s ex-wife, and subsequently keeps up the pressure on Guy to carry out the exchange murder — kill his father. Ultimately, Guy caves in and does it, but his life subsequently becomes a living hell, plagued by guilt and Bruno’s continued presence in his life. Because it turns out that Bruno is a psychopath and cannot leave Guy alone, despite the fact that Guy ultimately succumbed to his pressure and killed his father.

Strangers on a Train is really a psychological thriller, and it does a great job in capturing Guy’s perspective, starting from his chance meeting with Bruno on a train, his desire to get away after Bruno proposes his bizarre “exchange murder” idea, his consternation at the murder of his ex-wife and his horror at the growing realization that Bruno might be responsible, his dread once Bruno starts stalking him, the constant pressure from Bruno that makes him eventually kill Bruno’s father, and living in constantly torment and dread after the murder. In contrast, we don’t get inside Bruno’s mind that much and cannot really understand why he does what he does.

I found Strangers on a Train an enjoyable read in parts, but not particularly gripping. The premise of the story was more interesting than its execution — it was not very well developed, and the end was especially disappointing. The writing style was also quite pedestrian, which didn’t help to redeem the book. Overall, it seems like the kind of book which could be made into a good movie by a talented director, rather than a book that can be enjoyed in and of itself.

Strangers on a Train
Author: Patricia Highsmith
Original Publisher and Date: Harper & Brothers, 1950
Reprint Publisher and Date: W. W. Norton & Company Norilana Books Norilana Books, August 2001

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Wives and Daughters” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters

After being introduced to North and South, a Victorian classic novel by Elizabeth Gaskell that I absolutely loved, I picked up Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, hoping that it would assuage the withdrawal symptoms I was suffering from after finishing North and South and looking for another book that could inspire the same level of emotion. Wives and Daughters was Gaskell’s last novel before her sudden death in 1865; in fact, she was not able to finish it and it was completed by another writer of that time.

Wives and Daughters is centered around the life of Molly Gibson, a young girl living with her widowed father in a small English town in the 1830s. Her mother died when she was very young, but she still leads a very happy life, adored by everyone in the town, with many friends of her mother who watch out for her, and a very close and loving relationship with her father, who is a highly respected doctor. This tranquil state of affairs is completely upended when her father gets remarried. The new Mrs. Gibson is far from being the “evil stepmother” that is almost a caricature in most stories when the father remarries, but she is somewhat of an airhead, with not much sense, intelligence, and depth of character — all of which Molly has in abundance. This makes it very difficult for Molly to really respect her stepmother, and she finds her very wearying at times, but she puts up with it in good spirit — helped enormously by the fact that her stepmother has a daughter, Cynthia, whom Molly takes to right away. There is even less of the “evil stepsister” angle here that we are used to from our Cinderella fairy tale days — Molly and Cynthia form an instant sisterly bond that only grows stronger as time passes and it is their relationship that is the real highlight of the book.

There is, of course, the obligatory romance, and in Wives and Daughters, it is in the form of Roger Hamley, the son of a local squire who develops a close friendship with Molly but then falls head-over-heels in love with Cynthia when he sees her. This is not surprising, given that Cynthia is exceptionally beautiful and has that effect on most men. However, she does not have Molly’s character and depth of feeling — and she is the first person to acknowledge that. In contrast to Cynthia, Molly’s feelings for Roger are very intense, but she never lets them be known and does not ever feel jealous or envious of Cynthia for capturing Roger’s attention.

Of course, eventually, everything is resolved, and Roger and Molly do get together — it wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t. That said, this wasn’t really the point of the book. As evidenced by its title, the story was more about the close relationship between Molly and Cynthia and the experiences they go through together, including how they deal with a somewhat villainous character, Mr. Preston, the aristocratic lords and the ladies of the neighboring manor, and the gossip of the local townsfolk. At over 600 pages, Wives and Daughters is a long, extensive, minutely detailed book that captures much of the life of those times and the thoughts and feelings of all the characters, so much so that reading it is an experience in and of itself. For those who love reading about Victorian times, there’s so much of the book to sink into — the author seemed to be in no rush at all to wrap things up.

On my part, while I enjoyed the book, I didn’t fall in love with it as I did with North and South, and this brought home to me an important realization — that the inspiration behind any great work of art cannot be manufactured at will. Thus, there is no guarantee that anyone who has created an outstanding book, movie, painting or song will continue to do so with the same level of success. Inspiration has to strike, and while the creator cannot force it, he or she can make the best of it when it comes and create something truly remarkable that can bring joy to millions of others. And for those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy the fruits of their labor, we should appreciate that these could be “once in a lifetime” creations and savor them as such.

Wives and Daughters
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Original Publisher and Date: Elder and Company, 1866
Reprint Publisher and Date: Norilana Books Classics Norilana Books Norilana Books, April 2008

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca.jpg

Rebecca is, by far, Daphne du Maurier’s most famous book, and while I had read it years ago, I was inspired to read it again after reading My Cousin Rachel a few months ago. Billed as a “classic tale of romantic suspense,” I found this to be very true even though I had read the book before and vaguely remembered what the suspense was. It’s a testament to how good the book was that I still enjoyed it so much.

The story is that of a young girl who gets married to a middle-aged man, Maxim De Winter, whose first wife has died. She meets him in Monte Carlo – where she is employed as a companion to a rich American woman on holiday – falls in love with him, accepts his proposal of marriage, and returns with him to Manderlay, his stately estate in England. However, she finds herself continuously haunted by the presence of his first wife, Rebecca, at Manderlay. This is not a physical haunting – Rebecca is not a ghost story – but an emotional one. Rebecca seems to be everything she is not – beautiful, gregarious, bold, stately, decisive, stylish, with impeccable taste, the life and soul of a party. It seemed that she could do anything and was adored by everyone. The girl, now the new Mrs. De Winter – whose Christian name we are never told – is engulfed by extreme feelings of inadequacy. These are compounded by the housekeeper at Manderlay, Mrs. Danvers, who was devoted to Rebecca and makes no bones about how she feels towards the new Mrs. De Winter, despite continuing to do her housekeeping duties. She, the new Mrs. De Winter, also thinks her husband is still in love with Rebecca and can’t get over her death.

What exactly happened to Rebecca? How did she die? Why does Maxim look so haunted at times? Why is Mrs. Danvers so sinister, and so contemptuous of the new Mrs. De Winter? What does Frank Crawley, who handles the affairs of the estate for Maxim, know about Rebecca? And who is the shady Jack Favell, who comes to Manderlay to meet Mrs. Danvers and is supposedly a cousin of Rebecca, but is strongly disliked by Maxim and has therefore to keep his visit a secret?

While Rebecca is not a detective story — there is no “investigator” as such — it does have a strong element of mystery about it, with so many lingering questions that persist for most of the book. While that, in and of itself, is not unique to a novel, what sets this book apart is the masterful quality of the writing. It gradually builds up the suspense and captures the increasingly haunted feeling experienced by the protagonist — and thus, by extension, the readers — so vividly that I could almost viscerally experience a growing feeling of dread as I was reading it. And this is despite having read it before and guessing what the suspense was.

I can see why Rebecca has secured Daphne du Maurier a secure place in the annals of literary history. It is truly a timeless classic.

Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Original Publisher and Date: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1938
Reprint Publisher and Date: William Morrow Paperbacks, September 2006

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Kind Worth Killing” by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth Killing

It seemed like fate when Ted Severson accidentally met the beautiful Lily Kintner in an airport pub. Eventually he starts talking about his personal life and how his marriage with Miranda is going down the spiral and soon enough … Lily offers to help.

A deadly game begins there.

The author seems to have got the inspiration from Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. However, the best thing about this book was that at a certain point when we, the reader, think everything is predictable about this story, it suddenly takes a dangerous turn.

That single factor makes it a much better read than other similar works. I was literally like, “Oh, where did that come from,” at that point.

The story is narrated from a first-person point of view. So the story gets explained by each major character separately. However, the author has not taken any special care to make them “sound” different. The writing style remains a constant throughout the book for all characters.

Out of the lot, Lily Kintner was the most interesting one. You will start rooting for her and supporting a particular “obsession” of hers even if you suspect that she may not be doing the right thing.

It’s hard to write more about this book without spoiling anything. Some of the tactics used in the book to kill have zero logic if you think hard about them, but it doesn’t matter really since it is a thriller. The book is a good read. Yes, perhaps the ending could’ve been slightly different.

But then again, some of them are the kind worth killing!

The Kind Worth Killing
Author: Peter Swanson
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 2015

Contributor: Anoop Mukundan is a casual reader and a cyber wanderer.

“The Child” by Fiona Barton

The Child

The Child follows up on Fiona Barton’s debut novel, The Widow, which I had written about last year. I am an aficionado of the mystery/thriller genre and I had found The Widow a very good book in that genre. It was not spectacular by any means – far from contemporary hits like Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train, let alone classics such as Agatha Christie’s many books – but it was a well written, entertaining, and gripping read. Barton’s new book, The Child, is in the same genre, and while it is as well written as The Widow, I would have to say that its entertainment and gripping quotient was a notch lower.

The mystery in The Child is that of a dead newborn baby, whose remains are discovered when some buildings are demolished in a London neighborhood and the construction site is being dug up for a new development. While the exact year of death cannot be determined from the remains as they have been buried for many years, the fact that they are wrapped up in a specific kind of plastic bag provides some clues on a possible time frame. A DNA test reveals a match with a woman, Angela, whose newborn baby mysteriously disappeared shortly after it was born from the maternity ward of the hospital she was in. While Angela has two other children who are now grown up and have kids of their own, she has never gotten over the disappearance of Alice, the name they had given the baby. The discovery of the remains on the building site gets her hopes up so she can know once and for all what happened to her baby and get some closure, even though it means definitively knowing that Alice is dead.

Just when everyone was certain the dead baby was Alice, a wrench is thrown into the mystery when further testing shows that the remains had been buried on the site at least ten years, if not more, after the date that Alice disappeared. So it is still Alice? If so, were the remains hidden somewhere else for over a decade and then buried at the building site? Is that even possible? And if, does that make any sense? Or is this another baby? But no other baby was reported missing in that time. And what about the DNA match?

This is the central mystery in The Child, and while Angela is one of the main characters in the book, there is also Kate, the intrepid reporter who is fascinated by the case and keeps digging into it, and Emma, another woman who happened to live at the housing development at the time when the remains were buried. Emma has a deeply disturbed past and secrets of her own, and for some reason, the story of the baby’s remains becomes one she gets obsessed with.

The mystery is, of course, resolved at the end of the book, and just as in The Widow, in a satisfying, entirely believable way, without any “curve ball” type of plot twists. While there is sufficient intrigue in the story to make The Child as much of a page-turner as The Widow, it wasn’t a book that I couldn’t put down — I read it over the course of a week rather than a day — and in that respect, I would have to say that it was not as gripping as Barton’s first book.

The Child
Author: Fiona Barton
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: June 2017

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Villette” by Charlotte Brontë

Villette

I decided to read Villette by Charlotte Brontë because I wanted to become more familiar with her works. I had only read Jane Eyre before.

I’ve also always been intrigued by Charlotte Brontë’s life. She was a woman who experienced a lot of sorrow through the loss of some of her family members. It also seemed like she experienced rejection by people who held to certain religious views. This is why I was really interested in reading another one of her works.

Another thing that caught my attention was the idea that this story took place in a fictional town, “Villette.” I was interested to see what kind of town she would create. I imagined that she would create a fictional world, so that I thought it would be something entirely different from Jane Eyre.

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t what I expected. Although she did create a fictional town, Villette actually turned out to be another novel largely inspired by real events in her life. Which made it, in some ways, very similar to events that occurred in Jane Eyre. If you have read Jane Eyre, you might enjoy picking up on these similarities and figuring out how each of the similarities could have been inspired by events that were real to her.

I must say that it was really hard for me to get into this story because it was so confusing to me. At first, I thought that a lot of the earlier chapters were pointless. The main character, Lucy Snowe, spends a lot of time talking about two other characters, Graham and Pauline, and I couldn’t understand why. But everything comes together in a lovely way eventually. Every component serves its purpose in bringing the characters and novel together. Something that I learned through reading this book is to be patient in allowing the story to unfold and the characters to develop.

Another thing that made it really confusing for me, at first, was that there was a lot of dialogue in French (as the story is set in France). It wasn’t until halfway through the book that I decided to read using a translation app on my phone which did a great deal in helping me understand and enjoy the story a lot more.

Once I was able to sort out all the confusion and understand the story, I began to enjoy this book so much! Very much like Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë creates a strong passionate woman named Lucy Snowe. What intrigued me about Lucy Snowe was the circumstances she found herself in. She was lonely young woman who had to find a way to support herself.

“Thus, there remained no possibility of dependence on others; to myself alone could I look. I know not that I was of a self-reliant or active nature; but self-reliance and exertion were forced upon me by circumstances, as they are upon thousands besides.”

This is when I first became gripped by the novel. I wanted to learn about how she would survive. This to me, was the central idea throughout the novel and as events unfold surrounding this issue of her finding a way to support herself, she proves herself to be so resilient which was truly an inspiration to me.

A few things that stood out to me were her descriptions with battling depression due to loneliness. This story is told through the perspective of Lucy Snowe, so we are following her journey through her mind and how she perceives people and experiences around her. She’s also very poetic and passionate in her expressions, which was also something I enjoyed. There were many memorable quotes and descriptions very much like Jane Eyre.

I also think Charlotte Brontë did a great job at bringing her characters to life. Although we are in Lucy’s mind, she helps us understand those she encounters through Lucy Snowe’s dialogue and interaction with others. It was really pleasant to read about the relationships she develops with some of these characters. There were lots of moments that I laughed.

There were also scary moments! Several times, she describes Lucy Snowe’s encounter with a scary apparition that makes its occasional appearance throughout the story.

I almost forgot to add that there is a “possible” love interest in this story. However, it wasn’t quite clear who it might be until much later in the story. Therefore, the ambiguity between the two possible characters that could be the male protagonist caused me to stick with the story to see who it might be.

All in all, it was so pleasant to follow Lucy Snowe’s story. She was another woman who I found to be very strong. I really admired her work ethic and her resilience in finding a way to sustain herself and overcoming any emotional hardship. She was also true to herself and her convictions, and a sincere friend. It was definitely worth all the initial confusion and the brain work that went in to understanding this one.

Villette
Author: Charlotte Bronte
Original Publication Date: 1853
Edition: Penguin Classics, December 2004

Contributor: Nathalie Dorado-Fields is a stay at home mother who lives in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

“North and South” by Elizabeth Gaskell

North and South.jpg

Two of my all-time favorite books are Victorian classics — Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë – and I have been so starved of books in this genre that discovering North and South was like coming across a gem I never even knew existed. I stumbled upon its 2004 BBC adaptation — in the form of a four-part miniseries — on Netflix last week, remembered the recent write-up of the book by Nathalie Dorado-Fields, and started watching it – and couldn’t stop. It made me then get the book which I first obsessively read cover to cover, and then went right back and re-read it. It was simply that good.

As with most Victorian classics, North and South is, at its heart, a love story, and as with most books like it, the romantic tension between the hero and the heroine is sustained throughout the book, literally right down to the last page. The heroine here is Margaret Hale, the daughter of a clergyman who is forced to move with her family from the idyllic pastoral community in the south of England to the gritty industrial and manufacturing community in the north. The hero is a mill-owner in her new surroundings, John Thornton, who is taken with her right away, but whom she finds too harsh and unfeeling until it is almost too late.

While it would be easy to write North and South off as just another romance, what makes it so much more is how it captures the weighty social issues of that time related to industrialization — the growth in manufacturing, the increase in factories, the economic disparity between the mill owners and the workers employed in them, and the class divide. It provides an unflinching look at the lives of the mill workers, their extreme poverty, and their poor health, attributable in large measure to the unhealthy working conditions and polluted air inside the mills. A large portion of the novel is centered around a strike by the mill workers, and the part played in it by the workers’ union. This was when unionization was first starting, and while the strike didn’t end up benefitting the workers in this case, the perspectives of both the workers and the mill owners are the subject of extensive debate and discussion between the various characters. Also, the book does not shy away from the harsh realities of life at that time — there are quite a few deaths and even a suicide. It reminded me a lot of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, which portrayed the brutality of criminals and the pitiful treatment of orphans in mid-19th century London in the same heart-rending vein. You feel like you are there and can viscerally experience the pain.

Usually, novels like this are written entirely from one point of view, such as Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice or Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre. But North and South was unique in that respect — it takes you inside the head of both the hero and the heroine. You can feel both of their feelings, their emotions, their reactions to each other, and to the world around them. It made the book so much more richer and the story so much more vivid.

I am thrilled to have discovered a new book to add to my much-loved collection of classic literature as well as another author in this genre that I so much admire. I have already added Elizabeth Gaskell’s other books to my reading pipeline.

North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Original Publisher and Publication Date: Chapman & Hall, 1855
Edition: Norilana Books, Nov 2007

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine

I had the privilege of reading this book along with a friend. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, since I didn’t know too much about it except from what the title suggested, that it would be about time traveling.

When I first started to read this story, it reminded me a little of the Sherlock Holmes’ series because we are introduced to the time traveler through the perspective of another character, very much like how Watson recounts his observations of Holmes. The time traveler is passionately proposing his idea of time traveling and introducing the machine he has invented to a group of men who are very skeptical of him.

On their second meeting, the time traveler shows up late to their dinner meeting and when he arrives, he is looking very haggard. It turns out that he had just returned from visiting the future. What follows from then on is the time traveler sharing the story of his journey into the future and what he experienced there.

I was really excited and curious to know what happened to him over there. Why was he looking the way he was? Would they finally believe him? Was he even telling the truth? Those were some of the questions that sustained me throughout this book.

Another thing that intrigued me about this story was that it was a science fiction book written in the Victoria Era. I was curious to know how science fiction would play out during that time period. Moreover, it was my first science fiction novel. Some of the science fiction aspects that I really enjoyed were the descriptions of the actual travel into the future and the descriptions of the world and inhabitants he encounters over there. I look forward to continuing to explore this genre thanks to this book.

The author, H.G. Wells, seemed to be very passionate about issues and changes that were going on during his time period due to industrialization. His beliefs come through heavily in his story. It seemed like he believed that the type of progress that was happening during his time would bring about moral decline. These are themes and questions that arise throughout his story. I enjoyed this part as well because I was able to understand what aspects of society were important to him, and it caused me to question where I stood on the issues he would bring up.

This was something I wasn’t expecting. I thought it would mostly be fantasy-like but I enjoyed that he was able to create a fantasy world that symbolized real issues. It was fun to read about this world and imagine it, but it was also interesting to think about the heavier issues that each of these aspects represented.

Overall, it was a fun book to read, especially since I read it with a friend. It was fun to briefly be part of this world and also discuss the heavier topics that were brought up. It was also a short book. If you enjoy the morality aspects that are often brought up in Victorian literature, along with the fantasy elements from science fiction, you might enjoy this book.

The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
Original Publisher and Publication Date: William Heinemann, 1895
Edition: Signet Classics, October 2002

Contributor: Nathalie Dorado-Fields is a stay at home mother who lives in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

“The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day is the most well known novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature — unarguably the most prestigious literary award — a few months ago. Unlike most other writing awards, the Nobel Prize is awarded for an entire body of work rather than one particular book, and I was very gratified that it had been awarded to someone whose work I am familiar with and really like. I had read The Remains of the Day shortly after it was published in 1989 and while I couldn’t remember the specifics of the story, I remember it being a very good book. It won the Booker Prize the year it was published, which now seems remarkable to me as well — those were the days when the Booker Prize went to novels I could actually read and comprehend and admire, rather than the current trend of awarding it (along with other awards) to what seems to be post-modern fiction that does not believe in straightforward story telling. The Remains of the Day was also made into a highly acclaimed Oscar-nominated movie in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, further cementing its reputation as one of the best books in recent times.

Given that I didn’t remember much about the book except that it was about a butler in olden day England, I picked it up again, spurred by the awarding of the Nobel Prize to its author. It is indeed told from the viewpoint of a butler, Mr. Stevens, who has been the head butler of a grand estate in England in the early 1990s. It traces the years of his work – he prefers to call it “service” – at Darlington Hall, starting from when he was a young man in the years before the First World War to several years after the Second World War. The story is narrated in the form of his reminiscences while he is undertaking a journey to reconnect with Miss Kenton, who used to work in Darlington hall as a housekeeper for many years and who he thinks, from a recent letter from her, might be interested in returning to work there. She left when she got married and while it has been several years, he gets the feeling that she is not really happy and may want to return. So he takes a few days off to journey through the English countryside to meet her.

While several of his reminiscences are about Miss Keaton, we also get to know about his life as a butler in detail, about his employer, the politics of that time, and about how his father, who was also a butler, exemplified loyalty, professionalism, and dignity, right up to the end of his days. It is these exact same values that Mr. Stevens also lives by. He has the utmost loyalty to Lord Darlington, an essentially good man who, in the years leading up to the second World War, tries to broker peace with the Germans and ends up being branded as a Nazi sympathizer. Needless to say, in the course of these years, Darlington Hall becomes the hotbed for a lot of political activity, with lots of important visitors and lots of meetings. Throughout, Mr. Stevens prides himself on running the household smoothly and precisely, and being the perfect butler, who strives to be as unobtrusive as possible yet always on hand when something is needed.

What Mr. Stevens sets most store by, however, is “dignity” — he seems to personify the “stiff upper lip” the English are famous for having. Nothing seemed to faze him, he was never flustered. Even in his encounters with Miss Keaton – some of which were rather unsettling – he remained very stoic, practically unfeeling. It is obvious to us as readers that Miss Keaton is drawn to him, but she becomes so frustrated in his apparent lack of outward responsiveness that she ends up accepting a marriage proposal and leaving. Their encounters are beautifully captured, and you can feel the underlying tension between them, the powerful emotion of unrequited love that she must have experienced until she could bear it no longer and was forced to leave.

The title of the book refers to a revelation Mr. Stevens has at the end of the book, thanks to a chance encounter on his return journey at a seaside town after his meeting with Miss Keaton. He gets into a conversation with a stranger sitting beside him on a bench, who talks about how relaxed and happy people feel in the evening after doing their day’s work, making it the best part of the day. They can just put their feet up and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Mr. Stevens realizes that this can apply to one’s entire life as well, where we can take the time to enjoy the later years of our lives — with no regrets — after the hard work we have put in during our earlier years. These are “the remains of the day” as it were, and it’s a beautiful and uplifting idea that all older people can appreciate. There a sense of rest in the later years of our lives, with all those hectic days – focused on achievement and success – well behind us.

The Remains of the Day is so beautifully written — it makes the old world charm of early England come alive — and is so authentic in its portrayal of a butler if that time that it’s hard to believe it is written by a contemporary author. I’m always amazed when a writer can create something so real from something so far removed from their own experience. The Nobel Prize in Literature to Kazuo Ishiguro is so well deserved. I absolutely loved this book.

The Remains of the Day
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publisher: Faber and Faber
Publication Date: May 1989

Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.