A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.
For some reason I never got around to reviewing this book the first time but I loved it and reading these words again, it was just as enjoyable with all its understated, unreliable reminiscences. It’s about time Eowyn Ivey had some company (after four years) of being the only other author beginning with ‘I’ that I have thus far reviewed.
The blurb doesn’t really seem to give much away to the inquisitive peruser but it in fact describes the plot succinctly enough. The reader is treated to a story of past times, and a present that is quickly changing in many aspects. Class erosion, and the forebodings at the possible onset of a(nother) world war are both integral to protagonist Stevens’ life, and are explored with the personal. Namely the degrees of relationship we allow ourselves with people we spend the most time with.
Stevens himself is an extremely engaging narrator, a measured voice of self-reflection. He is a man of introspection with an analytical mind, whilst being a totally unreliable narrator, contradicting his remembrances and; one gets the impression, avoiding the thoughts too troubling to confront. A lot is left unsaid or, at best left ambiguous which just adds to the study of his character.
There is such a wonderful evocation of Englishness here, and of the national character, both the good and the bad. The book works as a meditation on the identity of the personal, and of where the English fit in on a continental and world scale. With the class structure slowly corroding, the changing of political thought and the reader’s hindsight into the future events of World War II, make this all the more poignant. Stevens’ vulnerabilities are a neat mirroring of his country’s.
I really did care about the story, the journey, and the man. The time and setting gave a wonderfully nostalgic vibe, whilst constantly asking about the meaning of life in service to others, and what exactly tradition breeds. There is a wonderful balance of humour that appears every so often too, such as the new laid back American owner of Darlington Hall attempting to engage with the serious Stevens in banter. This perfectly balances the darker regrets, of which there are many of a personal nature.
Rereading the last couple of pages as I write this really impressed me with the way the character of Stevens sees the world around him and all the things he is blind too. This book is a great companion to A Month in the Country and also makes a good counterpoint to P.G Wodehouse’s iconic Jeeves as well. All of which I have enjoyed this year (as of other year’s for the former) and all three are more than worth the money paid.