japonisme: the best novel beginning ever

30 July 2012

the best novel beginning ever

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expe- dition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr. Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days.

The idea of such a journey came about, I should point out, from a most kind suggestion put to me by Mr. Farraday himself one after- noon almost a fortnight ago, when I had been dusting the portraits in the library. In fact, as I recall, I was up on the step- ladder dusting the portrait of Viscount Wetherby when my employer had entered carrying a few volumes which he presumably wished returned to the shelves.

On seeing my person, he took the opportunity to inform me that he had just that moment finalized plans to return to the United States for a period of five weeks between August and September. Having made this announcement, my employer put his volumes down on a table, seated himself on the chaise-longue, and stretched out his legs. It was then, gazing up at me, that he said:‘You realize, Stevens, I don't expect you to be locked up here in this house all the time I'm away. Why don't you take the car and drive off somewhere for a few days? You look like you could make good use of a break.’

Coming out of the blue as it did, I did not quite know how to reply to such a suggestion. I recall thanking him for his conside- ration, but quite probably I said nothing very definite, for my employer went on: ‘I'm serious, Stevens. I really think you should take a break. I'll foot the bill for the gas. You fellows, you're always locked up in these big houses helping out, how do you ever get to see around this beautiful
country of yours?’

This was not the first time my employer had raised such a question; indeed, it seems to be something which genuinely troubles him. On this occasion, in fact, a reply of sorts did occur to me as I stood up there on the ladder; a reply to the effect that those of our profession, although we did not see a great deal of the country in the sense of touring the countryside and visiting picturesque sites, did actually ‘see’ more of England than most, placed as we were in houses where the greatest ladies and gentlemen of the land gathered.

Of course, I could not have expressed this view to Mr. Farraday without embarking upon what might have seemed a presumptuous speech. l thus contented myself by saying simply ‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.’

Mr. Farraday did not seem to understand this statement, for he merely went on: ‘I mean it, Stevens. It's wrong that a man can't get to see around his own country. Take my advice. get out of the house for a few days.’

As you might expect, I did not take Mr. Farraday‘s suggestion at all seriously that afternoon, regarding it as just another instance of an American gentleman's unfamiliarity with what was and what was not commonly done in England.

The fact that my attitude to this same suggestion underwent a change over the following days — indeed, that the notion of a trip to the West Country took an ever-
increasing hold on my thoughts — is no doubt substantially attri- butable to — and why should l hide it? — the arrival of Miss Kenton's letter, her first in almost seven years if one discounts the Christmas cards.

from The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro

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Blogger Haji baba said...

Could your next post show us Miss Kenton's Christmas cards?

30 July, 2012 23:02  
Blogger Gerrie said...

Choice of beach pictures excellent, beginning of novel indeed rather good. I've stolen your pictures and ordered a copy.
love Gerrie

31 July, 2012 00:04  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

charles -- see post for december 24, 2007.

thank you, gerrie! i hope you love it -- please let me know!

31 July, 2012 08:31  
Blogger Nancy Ewart said...

That sure brings back memories of this bitter sweet novel - and the equally excellent movie.

31 July, 2012 21:27  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

ooo -- you read it. how cool, nancy. yeah, every time i reread those first lines i am so struck by their power, which seems to come by their very odd grammar!

"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."

first, there are two elements of doubt, or undeservingness in that one seemingly positive sentence: 'seems increasingly likely' and that word 'really' used right there. the tensions in that sentence inevitably grab me from the start.

31 July, 2012 21:58  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Remains of the Day , both the book and movie, are at the very top of my list of favorites. The rather stiff language does convey the layers of confinement/restriction that he has subjected himself to and to which he has clung for self-definition.

Kazuo Ishiguro achieved, I believe, an intoxicating blend of Japanese/ English propriety and duty in Remains of the Day.
It is without a doubt a most exquisite work with incredible depth. There are layers upon layers of meaning and symbolism that are a pure delight.

And, what a delightful blog this is. You have created a wonderful little place for those of us who share your sensitivity to things japanese. Thank you for sharing!

23 May, 2014 08:43  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

Thank you so much, Anonymous. I love your description of the book -- very perceptive.

23 May, 2014 11:41  
Blogger art said...

I just wrote a catalogue for an exhibition I co-curated that I think you would enjoy. It's called The French Connection : Midwestern Modern Women (1900-1930). It's a show of works on paper including Hopkins, Peterson,Schille, Mars and Squire. If interested, I'm happy to send you a pdf. Great blog.

20 November, 2014 07:25  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

Let me guess -- you must be involved with the wonderful Gallery that bears the Keny name? I would love to receive your book! I'll even come back and review it here, as well as on my other more recent haunts. I'm looking forward to reading it. Was there not just recently an exhibit with much of this work shown? I have Google alerts on some of these artists' names and I think an announcment popped up not too long ago.

20 November, 2014 10:14  

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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