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The Remains of the Day (thoughts)

February 10, 2007

The Remains of the Day bowled me over. Ishiguro’s prose is nothing less than exquisite. The story is quite simple: Stevens, an old school English butler, is travelling to Cornwall to meet with his old housekeeper. Along the way, Stevens keeps a journal, in which he reminisces about the past (between the world wars, when he served Lord Darlington) and discusses various aspects of butler-ness (chiefly, dignity).

Ishiguro never lets Stevens’ ‘mask’ fall, so to speak: the reader discovers everything through a dignified butler lens. Thus, it’s up to the reader to go between the lines, and truly flesh out the story. I, personally, find this an incredible gift; it’s not often that an author is willing to draw the line, and trust his reader to do the rest. For me, Remains of the Day affirmed that subtly is a beautiful thing.

So, part of the book is Ishiguro’s masterful creation of the butler’s internal world. The other part is the actual story. This contains two main threads: Lord Darlington’s activities during the interwar period (and through Darlington, Ishiguro questions England’s appeasement policy) and the relationship between Miss Kensington (housekeeper) and Stevens. Both threads are powerful, mainly because Ishiguro tells both through isolated events. The scenes he chooses to show, and the order in which they’re presented, prove Ishiguro’s mastery of storytelling: I don’t want to say too much, but the slow evolution of Stevens’ depiction of Darlington hits the perfect chord with me.

As powerful as the Darlington story is, it’s Miss Kensington that will slowly, agonizingly break your heart. The ending is the only possible one; that doesn’t make the sadness any less palpable. I cried. And it was satisfying.

My hat is off to Ishiguro. Everyone should go read Remains of the Day. As for me, I’m off to track down his other books.

A Representative Passage:

The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however suprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit: he will not let ruffians or circumstance tear it off him in the public gaze; he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this will invariably be when he is entirely alone. It is, as I say, a matter of ‘dignity’. (43)

5 Comments leave one →
  1. sarala permalink
    February 10, 2007 11:32 pm

    It sounds fascinating. I’ll keep it in mind. I wish I had found out about the reading across borders challenge sooner but I have to many on my current list now anyway.

  2. iliana permalink
    February 12, 2007 3:02 am

    This is one of my most favorite books ever! I have read a few other Ishiguro novels and they are amazing too. My next favorite of his is When We Were Orphans.

  3. Bybee permalink
    February 12, 2007 5:28 am

    I have this book on my TBR. Thanks to your review, it’ll move up a few notches. Although I haven’t seen the movie, I know I’m going to have Antony Hopkins in my head, narrating.

    I agree with you that it’s great that the author gives some responsibility to the reader to figure things out instead of paint by numbers.

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