The Remains of the Day – A Review

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is told through the evocations of Mr Stevens, an English butler for the prominent household of Lord Darlington. Thoughts form in Mr Stevens as he takes a rare break from his duties to drive along in the countryside. With civilization sparse, it is inevitable that his begins to self-reflect.

The style is simple, polished, and conveys a marked English tone. Though the sentences are structured, the phrasing comes off as rigid. Perhaps this reflects the cold professionalism of Mr Stevens. It is clear, then, that Mr Stevens is indifferent to the world, and even to himself. In any case, this style perfectly reflects the restrained English demeanor. It juts through the pages from the first sentence to the last. Rarely does this English fog clear up. Getting used to this was not so much of a challenge as the effort it takes for Gulliver’s Travels.

There is no plot, but rather a lucid stream of scenery and dialogue and the emotions that may accompany it. The beauty of it comes from the many interpretations a reader may have to each scene. The lines conveys details of scenery with such an evocative mist.

If this is a painful memory, forgive me. But I will never forget that time we both watched your father walking back and forth in front of the summerhouse, looking down at the ground as though he hoped to find some precious jewel he had dropped there.'” (50)

These lines strike me as inconsequential yet full of meaning. Both Miss Kenton and Mr Stevens are observing this strange episode. On top of that, this memory is recalled in a letter written by Miss Kenton many years after. But why would this memory be painful? Is it because of the realization of the details in life? Why would Miss Kenton never forget? And why was the father looking down? It raises more questions than it answers, which is a good thing.

It is a story told by a workaholic, (or a great butler if you will) who dabbles at opportunities gone by. It is an inquiry into the definition of greatness, riddled with holes of unexpressed emotions. His thoughts are those that both praise and pity himself. They are ponderings of his life, those of which we can connect to our own lives. What defines success in a career? What will go through our minds when we are faced with the inevitable reality that one day, we will be just like Mr Stevens, in a state of self-reflection, with his achievements behind him. Then, what will we regret?

 

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.

Image from http://www.amazon.com/Remains-Day-Kazuo-Ishiguro/dp/0679731725

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