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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

remains

Reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro seemed very apropos considering the popularity of Downton Abbey. Random House Retreat brought this modern classic from 1989 to my attention recently with their online read-along in honour of the reissue of the book in August, ahead of the 2015 release of Ishiguro’s new novel, Buried Giant. I watched the movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson many years ago, but this is my first time reading the novel.

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

THE STORY
Mr. Stevens is an English butler who takes tremendous pride in his profession, a profession that has largely shaped his worldview and identity. Embarking on a road trip to meet his former colleague, Miss Kenton, Stevens reminisces twenty years back to the events leading up to the last time he saw her. He was loyally serving Lord Darlington and ensuring the smooth running of Darlington Hall. When Miss Kenton joined the staff, he was confused by her stubbornness and temper, but managed to establish a working relationship that was agreeable to both. At the time, Lord Darlington was hosting various political and military people in the interest of advancing his pro-Germany sentiments. Although his father’s death and Miss Kenton’s engagement begged for his attention, Stevens could only make time for his duties. Now that he is serving the new American owner of Darlington Hall and so much of the genteel world before the war has disappeared, Stevens questions all he has done and believed.

THE GOOD
The Remains of the Day really impressed me with the subtle way you learn about Stevens and his past by following his not entirely reliable narration. Events in the story are never fully explained and everything is inferred as Stevens sifts through his thoughts and memories. I liked how the reader has to think about what Stevens says and does not say to get the full picture. It’s up to us to piece together what Stevens himself cannot admit about his choices.

THE BAD
At times, Stevens rambles a bit too much. Otherwise, I have no complaints and loved this book!

CONCLUSION
Both The Remains of the Day and Downton Abbey seem to attach a romanticism to the old hierarchical system of domestic work in Britain. As described by Stevens, being a butler commanded a certain amount of power and respect with peers. In this case, Stevens takes his role extremely seriously to the detriment of his personal life. Right up to the end, unable to control the tears, Steven brushes aside his feelings of loss to focus on being a better butler to his new master. (Can you imagine calling your boss “master”?)

Overall, I enjoyed The Remains of the Day because it’s light in tone, but Kazuo Ishiguro stirs the emotions so potently. The story made me reflect on how fragile choices can be and the heart-sinking devastation of regret at the end of one’s life.

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12 comments on “The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

  1. The Paperback Princess
    September 26, 2014

    I would be interested to know what you thought of the movie now if you went back and watched it. I read the book, loved it, and decided to finally watch the movie and I was like “WHAT?! THIS IS NOT HOW IT IS AT ALL!” Possibly the one time Sir Anthony Hopkins and/or Emma Thompson disappointed me.

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    • ebookclassics
      September 27, 2014

      I’m definitely thinking of watching the movie again because it was a really long time ago. I don’t remember being blown away or anything, so it would be interesting to see.

      Like

  2. Naomi
    September 26, 2014

    I saw this movie years ago, but remember nothing about it. Thinking about deep regret at the end of one’s life sounds depressing and fascinating at the same time. I like it!

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    • ebookclassics
      September 27, 2014

      Ha ha, it’s depressing but it certainly makes you think and want to embrace every good moment that comes along. I don’t think I appreciated those themes when I watched the movie years ago

      Like

  3. WordsAndPeace
    September 26, 2014

    I love this author, but for whatever reason this book bored me to death. Mind you, reading Proust and other book with no plot does not bother me, so not sure why but this one was quite painful

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    • ebookclassics
      September 27, 2014

      I haven’t read Proust but find thinking about a book with no plot very intriguing. The main character in this book prattles on quite a bit which I also found a bit mind-numbing, so I can definitely see how this book could be a bit boring.

      Like

  4. Cecilia
    September 26, 2014

    I love Ishiguro’s understated writing style but I haven’t read this one yet. I’m looking forward to it!

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    • ebookclassics
      September 27, 2014

      I look forward to hearing what you think. What other books have you read?

      Like

  5. Priya
    September 29, 2014

    I’ve heard this book is a lot like his The Artist of the Floating World, maybe because of the unreliable meandering narration.. (have you read it?) I love Ishiguro’s writing and will definitely want to read this someday. Right now, though, I’m more eagerly looking forward to Buried Giant – something about lost memories? It sounds intriguing.

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    • ebookclassics
      September 30, 2014

      I haven’t read any of his other books, but it would be interesting to compare narratives. Buried Giant does sound intriguing. I think it’s about a couple who are reuniting with their son.

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  6. Julie
    September 30, 2014

    You should read Never Let Me Go. I’ve read it twice (the second time for a book club) and I am not one to reread books…but this book was even better the second time as there was a lot I didn’t catch the first time through.

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    • ebookclassics
      September 30, 2014

      Ooh, I would like to read Never Let Me Go. I watched the movie earlier this year and I liked the story. I always thought it was fascinating that Ishiguro has written books with English characters. I really should look into his background.

      Like

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