by Kazuo Ishiguro
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?