Saturday, 10 March 2012

'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

Synopsis: Stevens is an English butler who has dedicated his life to the service of his employer Lord Darlington and now to the service of his current employer Mr Farraday. Stevens then receives a letter from a former colleague, Miss Kenton. Stevens suspects that Miss Kenton is unhappily married so he sets out to take a "motoring trip" to visit her, and to encourage her to seek employment with Mr Farraday. Along the way Stevens begins to reminisce about his past.

The Remains of the Day is a very engaging and poignant read. There are one or two amusing scenes in it - e.g. the parts where Stevens attempts to improve his bantering technique - but it's a very sad book on the whole and the ending is heartbreaking. I think Stevens is quite an interesting narrator despite the fact that he's so reserved. You can admire him for his determination and his devotion to his duty, but the fact that he never reveals his emotions for fear of losing his dignity is just tragic.

The only real fault that I have with this book is that Ishiguro's way of holding things back and getting the reader to work out what's going on by reading in between the lines didn't really work when it came to Stevens's relationship with Miss Kenton. There is very little on the page for the reader to understand how Miss Kenton can fall in love with a man who constantly criticises her and keeps her at a professional distance. That said, I think this is a beautifully-written novel and I can definitely see why it won the Booker Prize. It's a much better book than Never Let Me Go too - the only other Ishiguro book I've read.

Rating: 4/5

2 comments:

extremely flammable said...

I loved this book! It's just so beautifully written. The part where his father dies and he just carries on working was so sad that it actually made me cry a little bit (which was embarrassing as I was reading it on the train).
I didn't get the relationship with Miss Kenton for a while but I think Ishiguro does a fantastic job of letting you work things out gradually. To do that and at the same time make a book where nothing happens, with such reserved characters, so interesting is a highly impressive achievement. It's so easy to get that sort of thing all wrong *cough* Great Gatsby *cough*
Very much looking forward to seeing the film now which I hear is also very good.

Indigo Montoya said...

Yes, that particular scene is probably the saddest in the entire book. The final few pages are really sad too. The Remains of the Day is definitely one of the better books I had to read at uni. You'd have enjoyed the seminar where we discussed it. One girl was convinced that Miss Kenton was a closet lesbian which was pretty funny ("Come on! She gets all upset when "her girls" get sacked! And how on earth could she be in love with Stevens?!") I have heard that the film is excellent as well. It got nominated for loads of Oscars although it didn't win anything.