The landscape of the modern novel, especially the American one, seems to be full of violence—but not necessarily the kind that comes out of the barrel of a gun; rather, it comes from the writer’s effort to subdue and kidnap the reader, forcing him into the writer’s world. This turns landscape into a battlefield, and, while it may correctly reflect our Zeitgeist, it also sends many readers to seek solace in the calmer tradition of, say, Jane Austen.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s remarkable new novel, The Remains of the Day—winner of England’s Booker Prize for 1989—opens with a phrase that could hardly sound more traditional: “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.” The pitch is perfect. It could be 1856 instead of 1956, except that the trip will be...


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