Japanese novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize for Literature yesterday; although I am delighted he won such a prestigious award, his importance to me is of a more personal nature. You see, three of his novels played an integral role in the first year of my relationship with my husband, Sean. Readers are funny in this way. Despite the fact that I could study Ishiguro’s novels using my English major skills and write about his skill and genius as a storyteller, I find myself reflecting on the emotional significance of three of his novels upon my life.
The Remains of the Day
I heard rumors of Ishiguro and his novels from my favorite English professor, but it was the summer that I got to know Sean that I picked up a copy of The Remains of the Day from a used bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts. Sean and I were on a school study tour of New England at the time; talking about that book was one of the first substantial conversations that we had within the first few weeks of getting to know each other.
I then read The Remains of the Day that same summer while Sean and I both interned at a publishing house. It’s a quiet, unassuming novel that vaguely reminded me of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Bertie Wooster for no reason other than it focuses on a butler and that somewhat sarcastic English butler tone. Stevens, an English butler, is devastated that he never told Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, that he loved her; he couldn’t allow himself to be vulnerable and open to the idea of romance beyond their professional relationship.
The ending of this story hit me hard. I knew that if I continued to like Sean as much as I did that summer, I would have to work up the courage to be brave as Stevens never had. This thought stuck with me throughout the next several months as Sean and I became closer and eventually started dating; Ishiguro’s writing and character study of Stevens impacted how I focused my emotions in the beginning of our relationship.
Never Let Me Go
I read Never Let Me Go months after reading The Remains of the Day. I knew it was Sean’s favorite book, which was a significant factor in why I wanted to read it, along with the fact that The Remains of the Day destroyed me emotionally (in a good way). I read it over fall break in a day or two, snuggled in my dorm room alone, daring to read a novel instead of the history book I was supposed to write a review of.
The setting and context of the novel intrigued me. Perhaps what intrigued me even more was how Ishiguro subtly wove in clues about the dystopian society to give the reader context without making the book about the way the dystopian society worked or how it got that way. I hadn’t read a novel that was so subtle about its context, and I appreciated (and still appreciate) Ishiguro’s balance of storytelling with just enough information about the dystopian circumstances.
I loved the book, but it didn’t impact me quite as much as The Remains of the Day. It was interesting to talk about this with Sean; he read Never Let Me Go his freshman year of college, and it hit him in a way that I’ll never understand, just as he will never probably understand how The Remains of the Day affected me that summer. And that’s a testament to Ishiguro—and books in general: These books can affect a person deeply in an untranslatable way. Books—and Ishiguro’s in particular—have power.
The Buried Giant
It was our first Christmas as a couple. We had started dating right before Thanksgiving, but Sean knew me well enough to know exactly how to pick the perfect Christmas gift for me: He asked my English professor for recommendations, figuring that he would know my taste in literature. He didn’t disappoint. Upon my professor’s recommendation, Sean bought me a hardcover copy of The Buried Giant and bought himself one, too; we planned to read it together while I studied abroad in Europe that semester.
We both started reading it as I started my semester abroad. I read it on trains to Prague and planes to Vienna. I got through most of the book while abroad and waited for Sean to catch up. He caught up a few months later, but I never finished the book. I haven’t finished it because I’m scared of the ending; I know it’ll be brilliant, devastating, and emotional. I also know it’ll be an end to the experience of sharing Ishiguro with Sean, unless we decided to read another of his books together.
So cheers to Ishiguro, and cheers to the emotional importance three of his novels have had on my life and my most significant relationship. I am grateful to have known these books and this author.