Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Preview… Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” is a beautifully written tale that asks its readers to contemplate the meanings of duty, dignity and love. The story follows Stevens, a British butler through his daily routine and his memories of former daily routines in the years leading up to WWII.
Taking a short leave from his current American master, Stevens journeys to the countryside in order to reconnect with his former colleague, Ms. Kenton. She has sent him a letter, which implies that her marriage is failing. Stevens naively assumes that Ms. Kenton may wish to return to her former post as housekeeper of Darlington Hall. His string of memories surrounding their interactions makes it clear to the reader that Stevens has unacknowledged feelings of romantic love for Ms. Kenton.
Most of Stevens’s memories are from Darlington Hall’s heyday, when it was still ruled by its original master. Lord Darlington, always the perfect gentleman, holds a series of lavish stately dinner parties, featuring prominent public officials as guests. Though Stevens never questions his master’s motives, the reader will discover that Lord Darlington is a Nazi sympathizer, who is trying to open negotiations between the British and the Germans in hopes of landing upon a peaceful resolution between the two countries.
Stevens reflects on the importance of staying true to his duty, even in the face of such unseemly circumstances as his father’s death and a rogue tiger. One cannot help but admire the butler’s unwavering commitment to his life’s work nor to pity his small, one-dimensional existence. Though he is something of an anomaly, Stevens’s repression of emotion, ignorance of the true motives of others and comical attempts to learn banter through study make him someone with whom we can all relate.
You may like this book if… you like the idea of a story where the butler is the hero and not just some side prop; you have an interest in the time period; you enjoy well-written, short prose; you want to laugh at some parts and feel awe at others; you often wonder “what if”, you enjoyed the 1993 film adaptation.
You may not like this book if… you have a hard time connecting with characters who fail to acknowledge their emotions; you like more traditional romances and require an effusively happy ending.