The Remains of the Day
By: Kazuo Ishiguro
It is the summer of 1956 and Stevens, an aging English butler, embarks on a holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past. For the first time in three decades, Stevens looks back on his long life of service and finds himself confronting the dark undercurrent in the life of his previous employer, Lord Darlington, and his own conflicted relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting meditation on life between the wars, love denied, and the high cost of duty.
I actually read this book some three years ago but I decided to re-visit it (as part of my great re-readathon this year), especially as I’ve been (every so slowly) watching Downton Abbey lately. Contains some spoilers ahead!
By: Miguel Syjuco
Ilustrado opens with Crispin Salvador, lion of Philippine letters, dead in the Hudson River. His young acolyte, Miguel, sets out to investigate the author’s suspicious death and the strange disappearance of an unfinished manuscript—a work that had been planned not just to return the once-great author to fame but to expose the corruption behind the rich families who have ruled the Philippines for generations. To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, charting Salvador’s trajectory via his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs.
The literary fragments become patterns become stories become epic: a family saga of four generations tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves. Finally, we are surprised to learn that this story belongs to young Miguel as much as to his lost mentor, and we are treated to an unhindered view of a society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress. In the shifting terrain of this remarkably ambitious and daring first novel, Miguel Syjuco explores fatherhood, regret, revolution, and the mysteries of lives lived and abandoned.
This book has been on my radar since last year when I found out a) it won the Man Asian Literary Prize, b) it was written by a Filipino and c) who happens to be living in Canada. So when the book hit paperback, I had to check it out. I apologise that this entry may be a little all over the place; I’m still sorting my thoughts out about the novel and it’s been a few days since I’ve finished it. SPOILERS ahead!
By: Salman Rushdie
Saleem Sinai is born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment of India’s independence. Greeted by fireworks displays, cheering crowds, and Prime Minister Nehru himself, Saleem grows up to learn the ominous consequences of this coincidence. His every act is mirrored and magnified in events that sway the course of national affairs; his health and well-being are inextricably bound to those of his nation; his life is inseparable, at times indistinguishable, from the history of his country. Perhaps most remarkable are the telepathic powers linking him with India’s 1,000 other “midnight’s children,” all born in that initial hour and endowed with magical gifts.
This book has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read since last summer. I’ve heard of Salman Rushdie long before that and of his books but I never bothered picking one of his works up until last summer. This book in particular has gotten a lot of attention, winning the Man Booker and then winning the Best of Bookers just a few years ago. I also wanted to read it because I heard it was really the book to turn to showcasing India. Having seen the recent state of my TBR list, I decided to take the book up with me to res and read it.
By: Hilary Mantel
England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce the pope refuses to grant. Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. From one of our finest living writers, Wolf Hall is that very rare thing: a truly great English novel, one that explores the intersection of individual psychology and wider politics. With a vast array of characters, and richly overflowing with incident, it peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion and suffering and courage.
Despite being an avid reader, I haven’t been so much into the award/shortlist stuff. The list of books that were shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker award intrigued me and when I heard the premise of Wolf Hall, I figured to give it a try at some point. Chapters Indigo was selling it online shortly after it won for a very sweet price so I snatched it up right away but only got around to reading it now. Spoilers ahoy!
By: Ian McEwan
On a chilly February day two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly’s lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence — Clive as Britain’s most successful modern composer, Vernon as editor of the broadsheet The Judge. But gorgeous, feisty Molly had other lovers too, notably Julian Garmony, the Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger poised to be the next prime minister. What happens in the aftermath of her funeral has a profound and shocking effect on all her lovers’ lives, and erupts in the most purely enjoyable fiction Ian McEwan has ever written.
This book has been on my want-to-read list for a very long time, probably around the time that I finished reading his book Atonement (which I absolutely loved to pieces; you can read my highly spoilerish review over here). I finally got my hands on it last week and read it last night; it’s a slim volume and I decided not to try updating my website layout so I just delved into the novel in one go. Spoilers ahoy!