When Authors Keep Secrets
I’d written my review of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, about unreliable narrators, and it was quite tidy — our narrator Mr. Stevens would have been quite impressed — and that was the problem. It was too tidy, just like Stevens is for six-sevenths of the book. Then I reread the seventh and final chapter three times. And I saw what was missing: there’s a time gap.
The chapters are organized around Stevens’ journey from Darlington Hall where, for decades, he has been employed as butler. He takes a trip to visit former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), in the West Country. The penultimate chapter is titled “Day Four-Afternoon / Little Compton, Cornwall.” The final chapter fast-forwards two entire days, to “Day Six-Evening / Weymouth.” Stevens, our unreliable narrator, opens the final chapter by saying, “It is now fully two days since my meeting with Miss Kenton in the tea lounge of the Rose Garden Hotel in Little Compton.” That means day 5 is missing.
It’s not a mistake: It is a deliberate omission.
What happens on day 5? What does Stevens do with himself, besides drive between Little Compton and Weymouth? He doesn’t tell us. The author, Ishiguro, doesn’t tell us. It remains a secret.
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