Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Weekly, Volume Thirty-Three (Literary Edition)

Novel:
The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)

A novel of deceptive simplicity, The Remains of the Day follows aging butler Stevens as he takes a drive around rural 1950s England and reminisces about the "good old years." Only, they might not have been so good after all. Through his protagonist Ishiguro not only weaves a heart-breaking love story, but also looks to a higher theme, examining the democratic responsibilities of man to himself, his friends and his country. The ideas are straightforward, yet prepared with great subtlety. The book is equally a triumph on a purely literary level: Ishiguro's prose is intricate, his tone remarkably controlled. If there was any sanity in the world, The Remains of the Day would be mandatory reading for English and Political Science students across the Western World.

Novel #2:
The Plot Against America (Philip Roth)

Another fine example of tone, Roth's novel is a tightly-plotted look at the desperation of a simple family faced with the complete overturning of its world. It's also a delightfully imaginative piece of historical fiction and maybe even a veiled condemnation of current US government policy. Many of Roth's previous works (for example, Operation Shylock) have featured characters dealing with the causes and effects of paranoia on a personal and societal level. The Plot Against America employs similar thematic elements in this sense, and Roth's description of a society unglued is vivid indeed, enmeshing the reader and forcing him/her to question the order within which we now live. Though occasionally bogged down by the trappings of its memoir-like structure, the book nonetheless succeeds as a depiction of what might be deemed the nostalgic traditions of American life, and their ultimate undermining by unforeseen external events.

Novel #3:
The Silmarillion (J.R.R. Tolkien)

I've lately been of the opinion that writers should not attempt an "epic novel" until they are well into the autumn of their careers--until they have had many years to acquaint themselves with all manner of philosophical, sociological and religious theories, and have occasion to look back upon their own life and the lives of others with a significant amount of perspective. For truly epic novels encapsulate in parable all of these subjects and more, and their creators must have wisdom indeed. The Silmarillion is forever overshadowed by Tolkien's other masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, but the former is actually a much grander undertaking, setting up as it does the cumulative history of the author's "Middle-Earth" and acting even as a creation myth for our world. The book is biblical in its proportions and prose, overflowing with pathos and stirring metaphor. And though its subject matter is fantastical, it is ever sincere, and its many richly-drawn characters are utterly--heart-breakingly--human.

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