Kazuo Ishiguro (Britain, 1954)
"A Pale View of Hills" (1982)
"An Artist of the Floating World" (1986) +
"The Remains of the Day" (1989) ++ is a melancholy comedy that offers a stunning portrait of a man who devoted his life to dignity but is left with nothing else that... dignity.
Soon, the journey turns out to be just a pretext to go over the past. Stevens is the son of a great butler, whom he eventually hired as his own help at Darlington Hall pretty much at the same time he hired Miss Kenton. Kenton's temper and Steven's pride were often at odds, particularly regarding the chores of his aging father. Stevens was cold and matter of factual with his father, the way his father had raised him to be. During an international peace conference organized by Lord Darlington, his father died, but Stevens carried on his duties like nothing had happened. While witnessing the vile behavior of the American delegate and the noble attitude of his employer, Stevens also tried to educate about sex the innocent, soon to be married, godson of Lord Darlington, as requested by his employer. And all of this while his father was dying.
As the journey progresses, we learn of Lord Darlington's disturbing ideology, respectful of German diplomacy, disdainful of Jews and democracy. The butler, of course, seconded whatever the master ordered.
Stevens also recalls his growing intimacy with Miss Kenton, that she perhaps wanted to bloom into something stronger, but Stevens' icy attitude kept at bay.
The journey is a minor diversion. The butler is not very interested in the world, and certainly not in the present world, his mind still living in the age before the war.
Eventually, miss Kenton got engaged and announced it to Stevens the night Lord Darlington had invited another batch of very distinguished guests to talk about peace. That same night the godson, Reggie, showed up unexpectedly. Miss Kenton was obviously hurt that Stevens could care less about her engagement, possibly because she hoped he, Stevens, would propose. Reggie had become a columnist strongly opposed to Lord Darlington's filo-German views and, tipped off, had come to the mansion to derail the meeting, which was supposed to be the crowning achievement of the Lord's diplomacy. Reggie tried to warn his godfather that he, Lord Darlington, was being used by Hitler, was, in fact, Hitler's main agent in Britain. Reggie also told Stevens all this, but Stevens was too excited about the guests and the historic meeting to care about Reggie's theories. Or about Miss Kenton's engagement.
Finally, Stevens meets Miss Kenton. While he thought her marriage had ended in disaster, he learns that she had an average life and she is doing quite well, content with her life and her daughter and has no intention of returning to Darlington Hall. From their conversation we also learn that Lord Darlington had been completely discredited during and after the war.
Stevens is left alone, both by history and by his acquaitances. He spent his life serving a failed lord, a failed cause, a failed house. Out of devotion to his profession, he never started a family. His life is truly lonely and pointless. But all he can think of is to improve so he can better serve his new master.
"The Unconsoled" (1995) +
"When we were Orphans" (2000)
"Never Let me Go" (2005) + is a dystopian science-fiction novel that begins innocently as a growing-up story. Ishiguro's documentarian style (scenes are described in such detail that they feel like cinema-verite') is more than ever perturbed by continuous chronological swings, back and forth in time. The novel is the imaginary memoir of a person who is not supposed to be fully human but the memoir itself is the proof that she is.
Kathy then moves on to when they were 15, which they knew was the last year of boarding school. Miss Lucy finally told them all the truth: that they had been created to donate their vital organs. The kids were not shocked because they had already sensed that. Despite being given sex lessons, they were also told that they could not have babies, and warned about having sex outside their group because it could lead to emotional attachments. One day they learned from an older student that their body could "unzip" easily so that organs could be taken easily.
Ruth and Tommy become girlfriend and boyfriend. Kathy is still a virgin and is planning to have sex with a boy named Harry (although she never does), but Ruth and Tommy break up and Ruth asks Kathy to help them get back together. Kathy then approaches Tommy but Tommy is more concerned about another event: an odd encounter with Miss Lucy during which Miss Lucy told him that being creative was actually very important, as was Madame's gallery, the collection of the most creative artifacts created by the students. This left Tommy depressed and humiliated. A few days later Lucy is expelled from the boarding school.
After the kids "graduate" from the boarding school, at the age of 16, they move to the "Cottages", managed by the grumpy Keffers, and are told to write an essay. Ruth is still Kathy's best friend although sometimes she gets on Kathy's nerves, especially when Kathy thinks that Ruth is not taking good care of Tommy. Kathy has her first sexual experience, a one-night stand. Kathy discovers a pile of porn magazines, and Tommy catches her reading them. An older couple, Chrissie and Rodney, return from a trip to Norfolk telling Ruth that they found someone who looks like her, just older, possibly the person Ruth was cloned from (a "possible" in their slang). By now the kids are fully aware that they are clones. The couple, Ruth, Tommy and Kathy decide to travel to Norfolk and find this person. However when they get there the couple seems more interested in discussing a privilege bestowed only on Hailsham students: they are allowed to postpone their "donation" of organs if they fall in love.
When the group finds the "possible", they soon realize that she doesn't look like Ruth at all. An upset Ruth then says that most likely they (the cloned kids) are not modeled from nice people but from junkies, prostitutes, tramps and convicts. The group then splits: Ruth and the older couple go and visit a former student who is now a carer, Martin, while Kath and Tommy stay behind. Tommy tells Kath that he's been looking for her lost cassette as a surprise gift. Then they begin to search in earnest in the second-hand shop and find it and Tommy buys it for Kath. Kath doesn't have a chance to tell Ruth and it becomes a guilty secret, even though there is nothing malicious about it. Tommy also tells Kath his theory about Madame's "gallery". He thinks that Madame is the one who judges if two students are truly in love, based on the art that they have produced over the years. That's why Miss Lucy warned Tommy that the being creative did matter. Tommy never produced anything worth of the gallery and therefore has no chance to ever prove that he's in love and to obtain a deferral. And Tommy now begins to paint fantastical imaginary animals, although he claims he doesn't do it just to impress Madame (with whom they lost contact anyway). Meanwhile, Kath admits to Tommy what Tommy already suspects: that she browses porn magazines because she thinks that she was modeled from a porn actress. Kath has sexual urges that are not normal.
When Kath sees Tommy's drawings of imaginary animals, she actually likes them. Ruth, however, gets angry when she discovers that Tommy bought the lost cassette for Kath and that Tommy told Kath first about his drawings, and so Ruth proceeds to destroy Tommy's self-confidence by telling him that the drawings are terrible. Kathy doesn't have the guts to intervene.
Ruth tells Kathy that Tommy doesn't like girls who lost their virginity, therefore discouraging Kathy from thinking that she could ever become Tommy's girlfriend. Kathy pretends to be indifferent but then suddenly she decides that she wants to become a carer and soon she leaves the Cottages. For several years she has no news about Tommy and Ruth. The job of a carer is a lonely and exhausting job. One day finally she hears about Ruth from another carer, Laura, who tells her that Ruth is in bad shape after her first donation. Laura suggests that Kathy becomes Ruth's carer and Kathy accepts. At the same time she hears that Hailsham has been closed and it's not clear why. Ruth tells Kathy that she and Tommy broke up. Kathy and Ruth eventually decide to visit Tommy, who has already gone through two donations. Ruth has learned that Chrissie "completed" after her second donation, inferring that she too, now so weak, may not be able to have more than two. Ruth discusses how she was a carer for five years before deciding that it was time to become a donor. Ruth wants to amend her past selfishness. Ruth also reveals to Kathy that Kathy was not the only one to have sexual urges: Ruth had the exact same effect. Then Ruth comes up with a plan: Kathy and Tommy should fall in love and ask Madame for a deferral. Ruth has discovered where Madame lives. Ruth undertakes her second donation and dies. Kathy promises a dying unconscious Ruth that she will do what Ruth suggested. Kathy becomes Tommy's carer after his third donation and they start having sex. Kathy discovers that Tommy is still drawing his fantastic animals. They decide to approach Madame and that Tommy should bring his most creative drawings; and apply for a deferral, i.e. for the permission to spend a few years together with no donations. Tommy asks Kathy what they will do if they obtain the deferral and Kathy doesn't know what to answer. This is all based on the theory that Madame was collecting artwork in order to judge who can truly fall in love and that such deferrals are granted to those who fall in love.
Kathy and Tommy travel again to the city where Madame lives. They follow her to her house. She is surprised to see them but invites them to her house. There they meet again Miss Emily, the chief guardian at Hailsham, who is now confined to a wheelchair. Emily calls Madame with her real name, Marie-Claude. Miss Emily is surprised to hear Tommy's theory about the gallery and the deferrals. The story about the deferrals has always been false and Emily tries in vain to suppress it. Madame's gallery had a different goal: Emily and Marie-Claude wanted to prove to the world that the clones were "human" and deserved better treatment. Hailsham was an experiment. Previously and in most other centers for clones the clones were treated like animals, not humans. The students at Hailsham were lucky to get an education and be treated humanely. Unfortunately the funds for the experiment were terminated after a scientist was discovered experimenting with creating superior children. People got frightened and clones were again reduced to the status of animals. Hailshaw and similar experimental centers were shut down. Kathy and Tommy leave Madame's house in a somber mood. Tommy has one of his hysterical fits but promptly recovers. Tommy admits that he was an idiot to come up with that fancy theory about the purpose of the gallery and the deferrals.
Soon Tommy is summoned for his fourth donation, which generally means the end of a clone's life: the clone is "completed" by donating all remaining organs, and then he dies. Tommy doesn't want Kathy to be his carer to the end. He doesn't want Kathy to see him die. Kathy accepts and resigns. She visits Tommy one last time and then learns that he "completed". Kathy ends her story and we know, from the beginning of her memoir, that she'll soon become a donor herself.
"The Buried Giant" (2015)