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The Butler Is Still Doing It

Journal Entry (Friday January 6, 2023)

I continue to wade my way through “The Remains of the Day.” I’m well aware that I shouldn’t be wasting my time on a book that doesn’t speak to me, and this one certainly doesn’t. I suppose the biggest problem I have is I can’t believe a person can be as self-deluded as the protagonist appears to be in this work. He is humble to a fault, generous beyond expectation, and gracious enough to make even the nicest people I know vomit. I’m waiting to see if the protagonist realizes his “faults,” but I don’t anticipate that is where the author is taking me. I keep reading because I want to find out why this book won the Nobel Prize in Literature and why the Boston Globe called it “one of the 10 best books of the decade.” I’m not going to wait until I get to the end to answer that, I’ve decided to ask the internet…

What a marvelous thing the internet. I have now been schooled along the following lines. According to a CNBC article (my first hit) the author is touching on the theme of “self-delusion.” (Well, I feel a little better, that is exactly what I was saying in the opening paragraph, before I hit up the internet for a second opinion.) The article claims Ishiguro is a mix of Jane Austin and Franz Kafka. I have no desire to read Jane Austin. Kafka I get. My exposure to Kafka in the past has left me confused and just a little depressed. I don’t expect “The Remains of the Day” to be a whole lot different. (There is a movie version of the book starring Anthony Hopkins. I may have to watch it just to torture myself a bit more, and because I like Anthony Hopkins.)

The Nobel Prize in Literature is considered the most prestigious literary award. It would be fascinating to ask the judges why this deserves to be ranked with Hemingway and Solzhenitsyn. The prize in literature is one of five prizes awarded annually. The literary award goes to “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” Okay. Whatever. There is some chatter that the Nobel committee may not be the best judge of what constitutes literature deserving of such an important distinction as the Nobel Prize. I’m in no position to comment on that but you can probably hazard a guess what my opinion on that is. Apparently today’s academy places a priority on what it calls “the pioneers.” It seems to me “The Remains of the Day” is more about perfection of a form (a study in manners) rather than a pioneering form, unless by pioneering they mean raising a form to new levels of perfection (not to be confused with boredom). The committee also gives attention to “unknown masters” which may be a factor in the Academy’s choice here. I can’t argue on that score because this is my first exposure to Ishiguro, I haven’t read any of his other work. When I look at the list of recipients of the award, I’m left with the conclusion that I’m hardly a judge of fine literature and certainly not one to raise a serious objection to the academy’s decision making process. I just hope that Ishiguro uses the substantial monetary award received for this work to write a truly great novel about baseball, bicycling, or skiing.