Reading notes: The Remains of the Day
Very mild and general spoilers ahead. I have read no other reviews or commentary about the book, so you might find these notes either obvious or badly misguided.
- The use of the second person is masterful. When commentators discuss second-person fiction, they tend to say that it's rare, give Jay McInerney a B or B+ for Bright Lights, Big City, and move on. Although much of this book is in the first person, the second-personal elements are significant and closely connected to the central aesthetic and moral moments of the novel.
- The narrator who is gradually revealed as unreliable is a more familiar device. It is executed brilliantly and, again, intensifies the book's moral climaxes. We begin with the overwhelming sense of order and decency; this is gradually undermined; and eventually the reader must import skepticism into scenes with no overt signs of misbehavior or absurdity. This effect is powerful once it occurs.
- Another way to read this book is as a challenge to the reader: how good are your values, and how much integrity do you have? (See the previous point.) The reader can often be thought to stand to the narrator as the narrator, a butler, stands to the head of the house he serves. This is a familiar device, but used to much more powerful effect than usual.
- Some important influences here seem to include the tradition of the detective novel (is it true that "the butler did it"?) and some American traditions. It brings to mind various other meditative novels about car trips (I have a hard time not comparing it to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), and the end seems to owe much to The Great Gatsby.
Very highly recommended. An easy inclusion in the top 100.