Emma is currently...

  • Addicted to: Fruit and nut mix
  • Listening to: Band of Joy - Robert Plant
  • Reading: Naples '44 - Norman Lewis

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Remains of the Day

I just finished reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which had been on my shelf for ages, but I'd never got round to reading it because it looked pretty dull. It won the Booker Prize in 1989 and oh my gosh, I can see why. It was amazing. I haven't read a book that has actually made me cry in a long time. It was just so good.

From the plot, you wouldn't expect it to be good: a butler goes on a road trip through the English countryside to visit an old friend, and reminisces about his past as a butler in a grand old English household on the way. That's it. And when I first started to read it, I thought, oh dear. Because Stevens, the main character, has this incredibly over-formal, emotionally stilted voice, and I didn't see how I was going to endure it for the whole book.

I quickly changed my mind. The narrative voice is the best thing about the book. There's something really haunting about it. Stevens is completely in denial about everything - particularly his own feelings towards the housekeeper, Miss Kenton - but all these undertones and nuances bubble up underneath everything he says, and you get this constant sense of the truth being repressed. It's painful. Stevens seems to have absolutely no interests outside of being a good butler. Even the conversations he has when off-duty are about butlering. As a reader, you want to scream at him, can't you see that you're missing out on everything that's good in life? That you are throwing away every opportunity that's given to you? But of course he can't hear you, which is incredibly frustrating.

There is one point, one sentence, where the human being breaks out from underneath the veneer of the old-fashioned butler, and this is when he realises that it is too late for him to have a future with Miss Kenton:

I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed - why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking.

The ending verges on the sentimental - as he sits on a bench on the seafront, a random old man enlightens him on everything he's missed out on. But I didn't really care. It had my eyes watering anyway. I'm not going to say anything more about it. Just read it!

I'm sorry to go all smarmy and book review-y on you. I just had to get that off my chest. It's made me worried about my own writing, though. I don't think I'll ever be able to write anything as good as this. Technically, I'm good, but I just don't have any ideas. I'm starting to think I'll never even finish a novel, let alone publish one. And yet my parents always talk about it like it's going to happen and I don't want to let them down...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

In denial?

Monday was the strangest day. For some reason, everyone was being really nice to me. My mum woke me up with a cup of tea, and then she brought in all these presents. I got a new digital camera, and some notebooks and CDS, and lots of books, including original 1930s/40s editions of books written by my ancestor, Cecil Freeman Gregg. Then we went for a walk, and had tea and cake and soup, and then went food shopping so we could make homemade pizza and have a feast with even more cake. And my friends were sending me messages, inexplicably wishing me a pleasant day...

I have no idea why any of this happened. It's not like I'm older or anything. It's not like I'm twenty. I'm going to be a teenager forever, right?

On a serious note, though. I'm twenty now and I need to sort out my life and do something useful. Like write a good novel. Or actually go on a date, or something. I'm getting closer and closer to the point where I have to grow up and start planning what I'm going to do with myself after university, but I really don't want to. So far all I've got is: I want to live in a quaint little flat in a slightly dilapidated building somewhere near London, occupied by lots of eccentric artistic types, and write lots of novels and articles, and wander about the city having tea with all my high-flying lawyer/accountant friends. How I'm going to finance this lovely life, I have no idea.

I might do a Masters in Creative Writing. But I'd have to get accepted onto one first, and apparently they all just teach you to churn out books exactly in the style of Ian McEwan. Which I don't really want to do. I have my integrity! (I just mistyped that as "I have no integrity" - Freudian slip?)

I have done one useful thing though! I had a job interview last Thursday, and received my offer letter today... I am officially an employee of the Royal Household! I'm going to be working at Buckingham Palace over the summer. It's going to be pretty intense - five days a week all summer with no holidays - but I'm really excited. Apparently working there is great fun, and I bet you meet loads of interesting people too. So, if you happen to be visiting London this summer and go to the palace, you might just meet me in one of the gift shops! Though if you said, "Are you Emakoke?" to me, I would look at you like you were crazy and pretend not to know what you were talking about. So don't bother.

On Saturday I'm going to visit my friend on his farm to celebrate his birthday. He has lambs! I might get to hold one! This is an immensely exciting prospect.

That is all for now. I am still young... I am still young...

Saturday, 13 March 2010

More mundane updates on my life.

I haven't been on here in a long time and thought I'd post a little update of my life.

Things are going really well for me at the moment. I've been getting good marks back from essays, which makes me feel confident that I am clever enough to be here. When I first got here last year, I thought I was an idiot compared to the people in my seminars, and that I wasn't cut out for university. It sounds arrogant but at school I was used to getting the top marks in everything - and then suddenly I was average. I've developed my style really quickly, though, and when I compare this year's essays with last year's I can see how much more sophisticated they are.

That might change with the essay I'm about to hand in though. I kind of wrote most of it in one day... Oops.

I've also been spending a lot more time with friends. Last year I often sat alone in lectures. I didn't have many course friends at all because after a lecture everyone would just go back to their halls of residence to procrastinate/have a nap. Now, because most second years live half an hour away from campus, we have to hang around between lectures, and that means we socialise more. I've formed a little "English Gang". It's so lovely. We went to see King Lear together, and on Fridays we meet up in this lovely authentic Italian cafe in town where they do amazing coffee and pastries. I spend far too much money on food here (I'd say I go out for dinner at least twice every week!) but since I spend almost no money on club entry/alcohol like most other students, I can afford to.

On Monday my housemates M and A are taking me to see Romeo and Juliet for my birthday! It was so sweet of them - they drew me a card on which I am on a balcony and Shakespeare is declaring his undying love to me, and inside it said that we were all going to the theatre together. It's such a thoughtful present. My other housemate O bought me loads of lovely stuff too. I'm so grateful to have such a nice house - I've heard stories of loads of people who hate their housemates and are miserable. We get along so well and are like a little family.

What else? Oh yes. Term finishes next Saturday, but I have to leave on Wednesday, meaning I miss a lecture and seminar and of course all the end of term partying. But I have to, because I have a job interview to work at Buckingham Palace on Thursday. I'm so excited! I really hope I get the job, because I think the palace would be an amazing place to work in - I'd get to meet people from all over the world. I'd have to commute to London every day, which would be expensive and time-consuming, but I'd rather do that than work in a dreary office which is the only other alternative. After the interview my mum is taking me to see Legally Blonde the musical. So if I screw up and lose the ability to speak coherent English, which happened in my Oxford interview, I'll at least have that to cheer me up.

In terms of writing, I sadly haven't been doing much lately. I'm on Chapter Seven of the Storm Awakened sequel now. I have no idea where it's going but I'm sure the story will make itself up as I go along. Over Easter I plan to pound out loads more chapters, because I get five weeks off from uni! Though I do have 10,000 words of essay to write too. Nice.

I haven't been working much on The Novel either. However, the other day something weird happened. I had an idea for something I want to include in it, and decided to jot a few words down in my notebook - and then the floodgates opened. The Novel is going to be really autobiographical, and as I was writing non-stop for about an hour I forgot I was writing about a character and started writing about myself. Self-absorbed, I know, but I think the best writing comes from personal experience. When I read it back I realised it was one of the best things I've written for a long time, and I hadn't even tried. It just came completely from the heart.

It was basically about how I used to hate my face. I mean, hate. It sounds incredibly angsty-teenager but it was a really big thing for me. I had awful skin, and I used to put my face through all kinds of torture to try and clear it up, but of course it only made it worse. I thought I was hideous and spent hours just staring at myself in the mirror wanting to punch something. Every time someone looked at me I assumed they were thinking how disgusting my skin was and it left me with no self-confidence. Whether from the fact I'll be twenty in just over a week (ahhhhhhhhhhh) or the amazing face wash I found (Dermalogica - expensive but worth it) my skin is basically spot-free now and I no longer think I'm hideous. But it was quite cathartic for me to get out all that stuff about how I used to hate myself.

Now I get to torture my character by putting her through the same thing. Muahaha.

Well I'd better go. Today I'm going to see The Princess and the Frog - it's been out for ages but I haven't got round to seeing it despite loving Disney. Then we're having tea and cake and fajitas (not together), and then I might write some more.

Happy Easter to everyone if I don't update before then!