Friday, May 20, 2005

50 Book Challenge #28 &29: The Lathe of Heaven & The Remains of the Day

A wise man told me that life is too short for bad books. The Lathe of Heaven is not that good a book, but it was short. The premise has promise: what if your dreams changed reality? In the book, the man with this talent, George, finds the power unbearable and tries to chase away dreams with drugs. This lands him in therapy, where his weak character is bowled over by the desire of the well-meaning but power-hungry Dr. Haber and his abilities are directed through hypnotic suggestion such that the entire world is rewritten numerous times.

The main problem I had with the book, other than George's annoying weakness, was the idea that the therapist could notice the world changing but no one else did. This was explained by his being close to George while he dreamed, but surely other people would see buildings melting and popping out of nothingness as well, even though they were not near the epicenter. The distinction between Dr. Haber's perception and those of everyone else was not, to my taste, adequately justified.

LeGuin is okay, but someday I'll realize that even though I find her books interesting, I never enjoy them. Bah.

The Remains of the Day is a beautifully written and perceptive novel. It focuses on Stevens, a repressed butler of the old school who, in the evening of his years, finally reflects on his time in service, especially his awkward relationship with Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper. Although it has some superficial similarities and is also driven by character, not plot, it is unlike Seth's An Equal Music in that the ending provides more satisfying psychological resolution.

The narrator is neither likeable nor sympathetic. That is the cause of my only quibble; what could any woman, especially one as fiery and temperamental as Miss Kenton, find to love in Mr Stevens? He is repressed, unemotional, incurious, and sometimes immoral. His efforts to master "banter" only highlight his lack of native wit. He is exceedingly good at his job, but respect and love are not the same. But perhaps my lack of understanding is feigned. Maybe I do understand, even if such choices are no longer the ones I would make.
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