The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This third novel by Kazuo Ishiguro starts by Stevens, an English butler at the distinguished Darlington Hall, deciding to take a motoring trip through the English countryside. He does this for a few reasons. One, he has never really seen much of the country in which he has lived because he has spent his lifetime dedicating himself thoroughly to his employers. Two, his current employer, Mr. Farraday, is an American and will be out of the country for some time and as Mr. Farraday has pointed out to him on numerous occasions, there is no point in Stevens staying around to tend to an empty house.
But the main reason Stevens decides to go on the trip is to visit Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall. Currently Stevens has realized that the Hall has somewhat of a staffing problem and he decides that Miss Kenton is the solution. And her last letter to him suggested that she did miss
Darlington Hall and that her marriage had basically ended. Although Stevens spends many days re-reading the letter again and again and over analyzing every word.
During his travels Stevens reflects on the old times at Darlington Hall and his former employer, Lord Darlington himself. His memory in many places seems to play tricks on him but soon it seems Stevens is trying to convince himself, as he’s obviously run into this problem before, that his old employer was not an anti-semite. That those horrible rumors were not true. That Lord Darlington always treated Stevens with respect. Whether he is actually convincing or not I guess is up to the reader.
Also as he nears his meeting with Miss Kenton he reflects on his time with her in Darlington Hall. He admits that their relationship started off on rather a rocky footing, actually very rocky, but soon grew to a very mutual respect. But throughout Stevens’ constant quest to obtain the persona of a dignified butler at all times, something Stevens talks about at length, it is obvious that he misses certain social cues from almost everyone around him, most of all Miss Kenton.
This was the second book I have read by Ishiguro, the first being Never Let Me Go, and I think the best one so far. There is a constant longing throughout the novel that is impossible to miss. However it was very muted, which I thought was perfect for a book that was written from the point of view of an English butler. It really did feel as though I was reading an uptight butler’s journal. It was very very sad because I would want Stevens to, just once, break out of his tightly wound shell. At times it would make me struggle for breath.
The chemistry between Miss Kenton and Stevens was undeniable and yet very depressing because it was never to be. And then the scenes that dealt with the anti-semitism were very well done and actually caused a great deal of emotion to stir up inside of me, which I was not prepared for.
There was an obvious struggle as Stevens reflected upon his past. You could sense his tiredness and his difficulty rectifying some things in his world. Ishiguro was able to deal with a lot of very meaty topics in an interesting way that did not make you feel as though this had turned into some philosophical novel, which could certainly have been a danger.
I don’t think this book is for everyone because I could definitely see how it could read slowly for some. There is not much action and Stevens’ pacing could take some getting used to. But if you’re an Ishiguro fan I think this would be right up your alley. I also hear the movie with Anthony Hopkins is very well done!