The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, an aging butler who worked for Darlington Hall – back in the glory days of mansion staff with butlers and maids. Darlington Hall now has a new American owner, Mr. Faraday, who suggested that Steven should take his car for a drive in the West country of South England. The chapters are divided as per Steven’s journey that takes him deep into the countryside and into his past…. His most important stop will be to see Miss Kenton, who has recently divorced, if she would like to come back and work in Darlington hall as they are a little shorthanded.
Stevens reminiscences about his time serving Lord Darlington over the years on the good old days before and after WWII and also his relationship with Miss Kenton, then housemaid. He also ruminates on issues of dignity and what makes a butler truly great. Unfortunately, as Stevens revisits his past, doubts about the respectability of his former employer begin to creep into his mind, and the possible hidden messages of love lost due to his dignity, Stevens must finally evaluate take stock of what he has made of his life and if his traditional values are valid in today’s world.
Now I have to admit that the last two books of Kazuo Ishiguro Nocturnes and Never let me go have annoyed me. There are mostly long sentences, convoluted passages, it didn’t hold my interest for long. Yet it is the same long sentences and the same techniques that brought the nuances of elegiac and past memory of butler Steven come to live.
Where do I start? This is one of the novel I sigh at the end with contentment and awe knowing that it is a masterpiece. A novel that you put down and there hung many deep implications that makes my mind thinking about it again and again. I’m trying to think when is the last time a novel had did this to me, perhaps In the country of men by Hisham Matar is one.
The English Landscape at its finest – …. Possess a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term ‘greatness’ . … We call this land of ours Great Britain, and there may be those who believe this a somewhat immodest practice.
And yet what precisely is this ‘greatness’? Just where, or in what, does it lie? I am quite aware it would take a far wiser head than mine to answer such a question, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that it is the very lack of obvious drama or spectacle that sets the beauty of our land apart. What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. In comparison, the sorts of sights offered in such places as Africa an America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness. – page 29
‘Dignity’ has to do crucially with a butler’s ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits. Lesser butlers will abandon their professional being for the private one at the least provocation. … the great butlers are great by virtue of their of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming or vexing. They wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear their suit:… he will discard it when, and only when, he wills to do so, and this was invariably be when he is entirely alone. It is, as I say, a matter of ‘dignity’. – page 44
The novel was subtle and gentle, in a true gentleman and English way, slowly building to a conclusion that is heart breaking. The words are few but every word is significant. The selected memories of Steven each and every one of them showcase an important social commentary about modern Britain. It is about the corrosion of traditional value of integrity, loyalty and dignity. It is about the ruling class and the working class and whether it is foolhardy to think the majority knows what is good for the country. It is about putting duty above self and to come to the part when Steven has to fulfil his duty while his father is breathing his last, speaks volume about Steven’s work ethics. Unfortunately it was his unerring deference to his higher principles that he lost his opportunity to find his own happiness.
In an almost all-male casts talking about masculine topics and old values, you would think this book is dry. In contrary it was an engrossing read. I relish in the meanings for things that are left unsaid. I feel my heart sigh on the longing and loss in the last few chapters.
I am continuously surprise that people are surprised Kazuo Ishiguro would embody a British soul and writes something so ‘English’. I feel I need to vehemently defend him just because someone carries a Japanese name doesn’t make him less a ‘British’ than someone who has a White man’s name. In all fairness, Ishiguro grew up in England and studied in grammar school and became a British citizen. He is as British as he can get. Moreover, the values that he amplified in the novel, which is ‘integrity’, ‘dignity’ and duty above self are values that are very similar to the Japanese.
What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished? The hard reality is, surely, that for the likes of you and me, there is little choice other than to leave our face, ultimately, in the hands of those great gentlemen at the hub od this world who employ our services. What is the point in worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely is it enough that the likes of you and me at least try to make a small contribution count for something true and worthy? – page 256
…bantering lies the key to human warmth. – page 258
I could spend days thinking about this novel in different ways and every other way that I see it, it all brings great insight to me. Due to my upbringing, I operate an innate honour code. I do my job in integrity and always work more than I’m paid for. I do not covet nor attempt to steal my friend’s boyfriend nor I could bring myself to do apple polishing at work for personal gain but I often wonder if I have bended my rules in life would I be in a better position than I am in now? Perhaps this is the same question (not literally!) that Steven asked himself and my take is that at the end he decided to live life a little and not take it all too seriously.
This is without a doubt Kazuo Ishiguro’s best work ever and is the best Man Booker Prize read ever for me. It’s a joy being able to finish a book that is much talked about and ended up loving it. With this book, I put Ishiguro up on my favourite authors’ pedestral and a contention for my favourite book of the year. I have been looking for a writer who writes about ‘dignity’ for a long time and if I need to pin down a book that is the epitome of British custom and its respected way, this is the book. And I question if an adoption of some of these traditional values wouldn’t do a bit of good for the society now that has lost its way.
‘Today’s world is too foul a place for fine and noble instincts.” – page 234
What would you recommend trying next? A Pale View of Hills, Unconsoled or When We Were Orphans?
Paperback. Publisher:Faber & Faber (Secret & Lies series), 2011; Length: 258 pages; Setting: West Country, South England.Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading at: 17th March 2012.
Matt@A Guys’s Moleskine notebook: Cleverly put together, the novel reads a dizzying dance and an emotional journey down memory lane.
Steph and tony investigate: The topics addressed may not be as “sexy” and controversial, but this novel is so much richer and far more thoughtful, and ultimately more human. Unquestioningly it deserved the Booker the year it was published, because not only is it one of the best Booker winners I’ve had the pleasure of reading, it’s also simply one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Bookie Mee: As the basic story is not one that is close to my heart, it probably won’t end up as my favorite book of all time. (Maybe it will maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.) But as a novel, it is amazingly accomplished.
About the writer (Souce: Wikipedia):
Kazuo Ishiguro OBE (Japanese: カズオ・イシグロ (Kazuo Ishiguro) or 石黒 一雄 (Ishiguro Kazuo); born 8 November 1954) is a Japanese–British novelist. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan, and his family moved to England in 1960. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor’s degree from University of Kent in 1978 and his Master’s from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing course in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982. Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki on 8 November 1954, the son of Shizuo Ishiguro, a physical oceanographer, and his wife Shizuko. In 1960 his family, including his two sisters, moved to Guildford, Surrey so that his father could begin research at the National Institute of Oceanography. He attended Stoughton Primary School and then Woking County Grammar School in Surrey. After finishing school he took a ‘gap year’ and travelled through America and Canada, whilst writing a journal and sending demo tapes to record companies.
In 1974 he began at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in English and Philosophy. After spending a year writing fiction, he resumed his studies at the University of East Anglia where he studied with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter, and gained a Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 1980
Ishiguro is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations, and winning the 1989 prize for his novel The Remains of the Day. In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
- 1982: Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize for A Pale View of Hills
- 1983: Published in the Granta Best Young British Novelists issue
- 1986: Whitbread Prize for An Artist of the Floating World
- 1989: Booker Prize for The Remains of the Day
- 1993: Published in the Granta Best Young British Novelists issue
- 1995: OBE
- 1998: Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
- 2005: ‘Time magazine names Never Let Me Go on its list of the 100 greatest English language novels since the magazine formed in 1923.
- 2008: The Times named Ishiguro among “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
I love the covers of the books in Faber’s Secrets and lies series.