The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day is the third book that I’ve read by Kazuo Ishiguro.  This is probably the book that launched him into being a well known author in the literary world, and it won the Booker Prize, which is a literary prize awarded in England similar to the Pulitzer Prize for literature.  This is the second Booker Prize winner that I’ve read, along with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.  Anyway, on with the review.

Quick edit to this post, I signed up for the Back to the Classics challenge several weeks ago, and this book is my choice for my 20th century classic.  The link for the Back to the Classics challenge is listed underneath The Book List from my main page.

Book Stats

245 pages

Drama (this book really made me think of starting a literary fiction category in my tag cloud, but I’m going to abstain from doing so and simply label it Drama)

Stand Alone

Characters

The book revolves around Mr. Stevens, a butler who serves at Darlington Hall in England.  He is a very good butler who is singularly dedicated to his job.  He is a very consistent and well written character, and as the novel went on, I hated him more and more.  To call Stevens a person is inaccurate.  he’s a profession.  He is stoic throughout the entire novel, never getting upset, never having an opinion, never doing anything except his job.  Even the road trip that he is taking which is really the premise for the entire novel isn’t his idea to begin with.  His new employer told him to take the trip, and even then Stevens finds a way in his own mind to make it related to his work.  Is it so much to ask that the main character in a book have an opinion at some point?  Stevens also has an inflated sense of accomplishment for his life based upon what his employer did while he was working at the hall.

Setting

England 1956.

Plot

The book begins with Stevens talking to his new employer who recently purchased Darlington Hall.  Since his employer is going to be away for a while, he tells Stevens to take a trip, so he does.  During his trip, Stevens goes sightseeing in various areas around England.  However, during the entire trip he is recalling different events of his life and thinking about other nebulous topics (such as the definition of dignity, which takes up about 8 pages early in the novel).

Enjoyment

This is a difficult novel to try and grade.  On one hand, it is well written, and I can understand from a literary standpoint why it received much of the praise it did.  On the other hand, this book had so much inward contemplation and naval gazing that it was almost impossible to enjoy at times.  To me Stevens was an irritating character and there was really no reason to tell his story.

I’ve worked in the service industry for years, at several fast food restaurants and currently at a bowling alley.  Oftentimes the best thing that can be said about someone working in a service industry is that you didn’t notice them.  Stevens does an excellent job of this, he is never noticed because he never does anything.  There is absolutely nothing memorable about him.  Even in his own viewpoint he doesn’t think anything he ever did was worthwhile other than in light of how it helped his employers.  There is a scene late in the book where he is talking to another person who used to be a butler.  The other butler remarks that Stevens “came with Darlington Hall” when the new owner bought it.  And he did, he’s a piece of furniture for all the emotion or opinion that he ever shows throughout the book.  He was annoying to read about as the novel went on and I really grew to hate him as a character at different times throughout the book.

I think I know what some proponents of this book will say in response to my thoughts, that Stevens merely serves as the way to discuss several bigger ideas, almost as though he is simply a pedestal to display the different themes of the book (once again, he’s a piece of furniture).  And they’re right, there are several interesting ideas presented throughout the book.  The piece on dignity that I already mentioned is one example.  The book also deals in large part with the ideas of cultural change as to who is involved in politics, how it changed from being a select few who had authority to everyone being able to involved.  In the same vein as this, the book looks at the idea of there being different classes of people, some of which are inherently better than others.  These are all really big ideas that should probably be discussed in novels.  The problem with them in this novel is that they’re thrown at you with such force that you feel like you’ve been hit over the head with them.  I love the idea of a book having a theme, I love the fact that many authors think about these themes and choose to explore them in novel form, I hate it when they’re thrown at you in the way I felt they were in this book.  In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro is incredibly subtle in delivering the story and the theme, it’s doled out so slowly that you’re almost begging for more of it  as you keep reading just because you want to know what is really going on.  In this book he hits you over the head and says “here’s a theme this book explores.”

Overall Grade

This book does some interesting things, some far better than others, I can appreciate the quality of the book but can’t suggest it as a casual read.

5/10

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4 Comments

  1. I’ve only read his Never Let Me Go. It was a good novel. This one is on my 1001 list so I’ll read it eventually, but I find it a little intimidating.

    Reply
    • Never Let Me Go was far better, he grew a lot as a writer between writing the two books, which you would expect over the 16 years between writing the two books.

      Reply
  2. Nice choice… I’ll admit, I skimmed your review, but only because this still sits on my TBR shelf. I’m weird that I don’t like to read too much about books I know I’m going to read! Maybe that’s not weird, but it’s me.

    Reply
    • I do the same thing, I’ve seen too many reviews for books where the reviewer ruins the book by spoiling something that comes really late in the book. I try not to include big plot spoilers if I can’t avoid it, and when I feel like I have to I try to mark it before I spoil what happens in the book.

      Reply

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