Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro
published 1989
completed February 2011

I have been wanting to read The Remains of the Day for a very long time.  I finally reserved it at my library and it took five months for it to come.  It happened to arrive when I was in the middle of two readalongs.  I went to renew the book only to discover that someone else had reserved it.  Ahhhh!!  I had two days to read it before leaving on vacation.  I didn't want to wait another five months so I read it very fast, and I wish I hadn't.  Halfway into the book I was still wondering why everyone thought it was so special.  It finally clicked, and I wished I had slowed down.

On the surface, the story is a little stuffy due to the first person narration by a traditional English butler.  He's reflecting on his service over the past several years while traveling through the English countryside.  Sounds boring, right?  It actually isn't.  What it is, is very subtle.  Probably the most subtle book I've ever read.  It really sneaked up on me and by the end, I was in awe of what Ishiguro accomplished.  The story is heartbreaking, but you don't realize it until you put all of the pieces together.  It requires a little reading between the lines, as the cliché goes.  Below is a quote towards the beginning where Steven describes why the English countryside is so remarkable.
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 forced 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.
This description of beauty reminded me so much of Ishiguro's writing.  It's never pretentious and is so restrained that you don't realize it's full impact until it's nearly over.

The first person narration, which is difficult to execute, and the use of an unreliable narrator is genius.  Stevens is different than other unreliable narrators in that he isn't intentionally deceiving you.  Stevens is a butler and he acts the part in every aspect of his life.  I thought it was apt when Miss Kenton asks him why he is always pretending.  He refuses to allow himself to display any emotion so the narration is fact only, no feeling.  By the end, you realize how severely his choices have devastated him.  He feels the regret and tries to change going forward, hence the title.

I'm so sad that I sped through this.  I probably missed so much.  As soon as I finished it, I wanted to start all over and find more subtleties that I might have missed.  I've heard there is a movie adaptation.  Has anyone seen it?  What did you think?


  1. Oh, you've made me even more eager to read this! Ishiguro's writing is definitely awe-inspiring.

    I haven't seen the movie yet (I think it's Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson?)--I think I want to read the book first, though.

  2. Kathy--I'm the same. I have to read the book before I'll watch a movie adaptation. I hope you The Remains of the Day as much as I did when you read it. I've really loved what I've read by Ishiguro so far.

  3. The movie is excellent! Gorgeously done. I read the book much later, and it started a love for Ishiguro's writing.

  4. I've wanted to check out one of his books since Kathy reviewed one awhile back. I'd never even heard of him even though I saw the Remains movie year ago. Pitiful, huh.

    I remember liking the movie alright but don't remember any particulars.

    Thanks for visiting/commenting over at Mrs. BG-- I spotted you commenting on Kathy's goodwill post the other day and followed your blog but hadn't had time to stop by and say hi.

    You mentioned buying buying thrift books too-- we are going to host a linky party soon for bargain book hauls from any source-- hope you link up sometime.


  5. Shelley--I'm happy to hear you liked the movie. Now I really want to see it. I love Ishiguro's writing too. He amazes me.

    Lesa--I hope you get a chance to read one of Ishiguro's book. I really enjoy his writing.

    I love buying books at thrift shops. I would definitely link up if you did a post on bargain books. What a great idea!

  6. I love this book so much. I agree it's one best enjoyed slowly, but I'm glad it eventually did lick for you! I haven't seen the film adaptation yet, but I did hear it was very well done.

  7. Nymeth--I really want to read it again, but much more slowly. I'm glad you also enjoyed it. I've heard great things about the movie adaptation. I can't wait to see it! I hope you get a chance to also.

  8. I know about reading a novel fast and then wishing you hadn't.

    You make me want to read it.

    Unfortunately, I've seen the film, so might wait a few more years before doing so. Perhaps I'll try a different Ishiguro.

  9. I'm so glad you loved this one. It's such a quiet, but powerful novel. I compeltely agree with you about Ishiguro's writing. You really don't realize how beautiful it is until it's sunk in. I did enjoy the film, but it doesn't have the same power as the book.

  10. Monica--Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy it if you get a chance to read it. Did you enjoy the film?

    Avid Reader--Quiet is a great way to describe this book. I can't wait to read more from Ishiguro.

  11. I've only read his "Never Let Me Go" and I could see him being a very subtle writer. It is a shame you had to rush through it. It seems like a book that requires a slow pace.

  12. Great review. I want to see how Ishiguro made a seemingly boring story about an English butler interesting. Never Let Me Go is currently in my TBR pile, and I can't wait to get started on it. :)

  13. Jenner--I know. I'll have to remind myself to slow down next time. I thought Never Let Me Go was great, but i think The Remains of the Day is better. They're very different.

    Darlyn--I hope you enjoy Never Let Me Go. That's a great one too.

  14. I'm so glad you stuck with it even if it went too quickly. My dad is reading this one right now on my recommendation and he doesn't get it. I'm heartbroken but the truth is it's been a while since ive read it and have such a hard time explaining the beauty of the book. I remember just sobbing at the end but other than that...Wish I could remember more.

    It's one of those you'd just love to read again, huh?

  15. Trish--How sad that your dad isn't enjoying it. I almost missed it too. I think the issue is that you really have to focus on what's going on around the butler because what he says and what is actually happening are very different things. At face value, the book is actually kind of boring until you get it. I really do want to read it again. I missed so much in the first half because I didn't realize what Ishiguro was doing.