The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and into his past.

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.

30 Replies to “The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro”

    1. I love Jeeves too, it’s interesting to see the other side of the butler role here, all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, as well as those thoughts on whom they serve.

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  1. I have tried his other books, yet they don’t come close to the caliber of writing of Remains. Anthony and Emma truly did it justice in the film adaptation.

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    1. The blurbs didn’t do it for me, when I read any of them, I would be happy to try another one when I have a space in my reading time but I don’t want to spoil my 100% record of liking Ishiguro books on the other hand.

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      1. His other books are more fantasy or at least have more of a twist to them. It’s as if he is trying to capture a Night S. plot in novel for. Sometimes they come off as a bit contrived.

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  2. This is one book I’ve always meant to read and haven’t gotten around to yet. Am I correct in thinking that they made a movie or a tv movie out of it a few years back? For some reason, that sticks in my mind.

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    1. Yes the film had Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I haven’t watched the film but now I’ve read the book twice and really enjoyed it both times, I may give it a whirl.

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  3. It sounds like there’s much more to this than the movie shows. I guess that’s the way things usually are with books and movies – we can’t get into a character’s head as easily in a movie as through a book. I like the idea of questioning life and the meanings behind it all and will have to get to this one some day.

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    1. There is something nuanced in acting, that a facial expression could attempt to show inner conflict and such is a real challenge. Books have the luxury to explore so much all in the space if a short time before moving on. I need to watch the film now to see how it compares.

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    1. It is one of those books that you wish to take your time with but feel compelled to lose yourself in it and keep turning the pages.

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    1. I would certainly choose it over Wolf Hall, although I will give it another go one day. I am enjoying my time rereading the books I have with me, before this I was averse to doing so as there is so much more to read than I will ever have time to cover.

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          1. Indeed – and you can notice so much more in the writing when you already know the basic story. I’m really glad to have come to understand all this!

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  4. I intend to read this as soon as possible. I bought the book ages ago and keep thinking about it but find I have committed myself to reading loads of other books first. You know how it goes!

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    1. That’s always the problem! MAny books to read and good ones keep being introduced or reminded about. I’m overflowed myself after a few months of the ‘luxury’ of only having a small pool to choose from.

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  5. I haven’t read the book as the film has stayed with me even though I watched it years ago. Well, you’ve tempted me to dig out a copy anyway, maybe after a Jeeves palate cleanser!

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    1. Woo hoo! It is well worth a read, the film has such high praise I am interested in watching it soon, whenever that will be.

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  6. I had started reading this early in February but for some reason felt disconnected with the plot even after 50 some pages. I left it at that believing it wasn’t the right time to begin it. I shall pick it up as soon as I have my hands free from all the review books. But is this a wonderful review? As always, my friend!

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    1. I know what you mean, there is so much to catch up on, it is becoming challenging to keep up, along with life outside blogging, the balancing act is tough. Thank you for your kind words, I look forward to writing more this week, and as ever, to your thoughts on the book.

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