The Remains of the Day (1989)

Set in the years following the Second World War, ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro is a personal account by the butler Stevens of the lives of the people he holds dear. Among them are his previous employer Lord Darlington, an important figure in international affairs; Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall whose moments of being at loggerheads with Stevens serve as a strange source of comfort for him; and his father, the embodiment of Stevens’ conception of a man with ‘dignity’. As Stevens, in the present-day, is compelled to go on a rare vacation that he spends motoring around England, he reminisces on how he has spent his life so far, his flashbacks prompted by the various personages he meets during his trip.

To be honest what had me reading this book – aside from the fact that I’d read Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘When We Were Orphans’ and ‘An Artist of the Floating World’ before and would someday like to read ‘Never Let Me Go’ – is that someone made a joke of it some time ago, alluding to it as ‘that movie’ that always reminded him of defecation. I’ve yet to see the movie, but the book, once read, cannot at all be brought down to the level of something as base as pooping, human needs aside. Even as Stevens modestly recalls the important but nonetheless ordinary facts of his life, the message of his recollections borders on the elegant and sublime. Stevens, I often thought as I turned the pages, isn’t such a bad adult to be. Broken in a way that life breaks us all, but nevertheless forgiving to himself in the end and optimistic about what the remainder of his years holds.

‘The Remains of the Day’ has no great plot twists, nor does it have any of the flashy writing that its contemporaries and predecessors have utilized. The great surprise though is that even with its simplicity, it is stirring and haunting and – even to a sheltered reader like me who has not experienced much of life – relatable. It captures perfectly what being human means. After all, living is essentially weaving day after day of tedious work and finding, at the end of it all, that your life means something, is it not?

Chosen Quotable: “I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”

This blog gives ‘The Remains of the Day’ 4 out of 5 stars. It gives one room to reflect, it is easy to follow, its characters are very likeable, and it is written in beautiful, graceful prose. Although it is easy to connect with, however, its slow pace does not make it a cannot-be-put-down-even-in-the-toilet book.

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro.
Publisher: Faber and Faber Limited.
Pages: 245, paperback.

Photo (c) Wikimedia.

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