Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains of the Day by Kazuo IshiquroSummary: A Butler of one of the great houses in England reflects back on his life.

Remains of the Day ended up in my reading list after being nominated for a 2013 Audie Award.  I watched the movie years ago and knew the had won a Booker Award in 1989 when it came out.  So after Audible had it on sale I started listening to it.

It is an excellent audiobook.  Simon Prebble was a very good choice as narrator.

Mr Stevens has been at Darlington Hall for 35 years.  Lord Darlington, his long time employer, passed away 3 years ago and the great house was purchased by an American business man.  While the new owner is away, Mr Stevens decides to take a trip to see the former housekeeper.

His travels lead to long sections of reminiscence.  The entire book is first person narration.  Stevens alternates between occasionally realizing what is going on to being unable to really see what is going on around him.  He maintains his ‘dignity’ even to the listener.

Much of the book is about Stevens trying to indirectly see whether the work of his life has had value.  Stevens asserts that he has been great because he has served a great man.  (Although many others believe that Lord Darlington was actually a fool that was played by Hitler to keep Britain out of the war for as long as possible.)

So I am struck by how different this book would be if Lord Darrington was a great man instead of someone that was out of his depth.  Stevens believed that service was more important than his own happiness.  And I think many readers that find this book tragic would commend him if he had served Winston Churchill or another Lord that ended up being truly great.  So I wonder at the implicit idea that underlies the entire book.

On the other hand this is a great book to illustrate cognitive dissonance (the idea that we come to believe something different from reality in order to make ourselves feel better.)  The best book I have read on that is Mistakes Were Made, but Not By Me.

I really did enjoy the book, it was performed excellently.  And it really did challenge me to think about what we serve (or who we serve) and how thing outside our power can forever affect the way we perceive ourselves.  In the end I think I come to a different conclusion then the book intended.  But it is still well worth reading.

I stumbled on this good review in the form of a letter to Mr Stevens that you might read to get a sense of the book.

Remains of the Day Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

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