Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains_of_the_dayThe Remains of the Day is a very well known British novel by Japanese-born British novelist, Kazuo Ishiguro.  The novel is a first person narrative coming from the voice of an accomplished butler, Stevens, in post-war England.  Stevens goes on a much deserved “motoring trip” and as he makes his way around the country side of Great Britain he takes the time to think back over his career as butler at Darlington Hall.  Stevens is very matter of fact as he describes his life as a butler, his duties, and his relationships with his staff and his employer.  As the reader hears more and more, we discover that Stevens has perhaps taken his duties and loyalties as butler so seriously that he has missed out on a more fulfilling life, a life of love and devotion to someone other than his employer.

In reading about Ishiguro’s background, I have learned that Ishiguro experienced an especially unique upbringing, as England was all that he knew as home since his family moved to Great Britain when he was 5, and yet he grew up in a Japanese speaking home in order to keep his Japanese culture in tact.  While I haven’t read his first two novels, Ishiguro states that his image of Japan that appears in the novels comes strictly from his imagination and how it had been described by his parents.  While I would perhaps state that no remnants of his Japanese culture appear in The Remains of the Day, it seems that his tendency to write from the flawed first-person perspective, which is apparently a repeated theme throughout many of his works, is seen as more typical of Japanese influence then British.

I liked this novel because of the implicitness of it.  There was so much that was unsaid but implied. The descriptions of events were so crisp that it was easy to imagine gestures, facial expressions, and emotions that were not written in words exactly but described as one might describe a shadow.  As the novel continued, there was no real progression in action or a climax but there was a sense of uneasiness that built until the very end as Stevens described all of the events of his past juxtaposed with his obsession of being a “great butler”.  Just like one might feel increasingly bad for Greg Focker in Meet the Parents as mishap after mishap befalls the poor guy, I began to feel pity for this man who was so devoted to his role as butler that he wouldn’t allow himself to feel and in some cases seemed incapable of feeling some of the most basic of human emotions such as grief, compassion, and love.

The 1993 movie version of the novel was very well cast as Anthony Hopkins has always been able to successfully play stoic characters. The only thing that I am unsure of is whether or not they aged his appropriately.  From the first flashback until the present at least twenty-five years had past but the only difference in appearance seemed to be that Hopkins’ hair changed from black to gray.  Emma Thompson played the housekeeper, Ms. Kenton, whom it seems contemplated having a romantic relationship with Stevens but felt her feelings were unrequited. I enjoyed the movie but I was disappointed in two things. The movie downplayed Stevens’ obsession with being a “great butler” as Stevens discussed the definition of a great butler in great detail in the novel. Also, to me, the end didn’t work as well in the movie as it did in the novel.  In the novel, Stevens states that as Ms. Kenton admits that she often thought of what life would have been like with him instead of with the man that she did marry that his heart was breaking.  This was key because Stevens very little mentioned any of his feelings at all, as if a good butler wasn’t allowed to have them.  These words were not stated in the movie and had to be inferred by the scene but I feel that the scene was left feeling less powerful.

While I had a bit of difficulty getting into the novel, as the novel progressed I became more and more attached to the characters and was very compelled by the end to find out what happened to the butler Stevens.  As I listened to the novel, I would recommend the narrator as having done a good job of making the characters distinct enough to make it easy to understand who was who.  I would recommend this novel to others whom I know enjoy the series Downton Abbey and to those whom like a novel with historical themes and one that requires reflection.

Remains of the Day Purchase Links: PaperbackKindle Edition, Audiobook

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I have seen the movie many years ago but not read the book. But I wonder if you have read any Shusaku Endo? He is a Japanese writer who grew up Christian in Japan. Two of his novels, Silence and Samurai are some of my favorites.

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