Title/ The Remains of the Day
Author/ Kazuo Ishiguro
Publication date/ 1990 (first published 1989)
No. of pages/ 245
Star rating/ ★★★★
Literary awards/ Man Booker prize 1989
The Remains of the Day is set in post World War 2 England, and follows Mr Stevens, a middle-aged butler working at Darlington Hall, as he sets out on a road trip across the countryside to visit a former co-worker and friend. The plot is very simple, which allows the focus to be on Steven’s memories and reflections on his work as a butler, specifically under Lord Darlington, before the war started. We also briefly meet Mr Farraday, Stevens’ new American employer at the Hall after the death of Lord Darlington. Mr Farraday’s views and character are very different from Stevens and the contrast illustrates the rigidity of British society and of Mr Stevens himself.
The themes of the novel include dignity, memory, regret and loss. Mr Stevens considers dignity a vital thing to have in terms of his job, and throughout the novel he considers what makes ‘a great butler’. However he begins to question what dignity has cost him throughout his life, and starts to wonder whether the ‘banter’ of his new American employer will make for a happier life. I enjoyed reading about his journey, not only through the English countryside, but his path through his reflections and how they begin to change his perspective of himself and the world around him. Through the memories we also begin to slowly see how Lord Darlington and the events at Darlington Hall influenced the overall social and political climate around the start of World War 2. The tragic result of Darlington’s naivety shows the themes of loss and dignity.
I will admit that I sometimes found it to be quite slow, but then again that is the nature of the novel – the simple plot means that there is an unhurried focus on memory and ordinary life in this novel, and overall I really enjoyed it. Additionally I felt that I didn’t connect with the characters as much as the characters in another of Ishiguro’s books, Never Let Me Go. Maybe that is on purpose, due to the fact that Mr Stevens is an unreliable narrator, and you can’t tell for sure if he is telling you everything. For example, he asserts he is proud of working for Lord Darlington, yet when asked about it he denies it. Another excellent example of this is his absolute unquestioning loyalty to Darlington, even after the Lord makes very serious mistakes. We don’t fully come to realize this until almost at the end of the book and it shows that Stevens isn’t reliable at giving us accurate insight into the characters and events.
Those are some of my thoughts on this novel. I know that this isn’t the most positive sounding review, but I did really enjoy it. This novel is about what might have been, and the possible consequences of holding back from something that really matters to you. That is what makes this novel so great – it is so moving and perceptive about the lives of people and although Stevens is very different from people in this day and age, you can still take so much from his sad story. Ishiguro’s novel is a extremely well-written, subtle work that I think will get better after rereading and definitely well worth a read.
Let me know your thoughts on this novel…
See you next time.