The Remains of the Day
By Kazuo Ishiguro
- Date Finished: April 1
- Genre: Fiction
- Year: 1989
- Project: n/a
- Reading List: Spring 2013, Booker Award Winners
- Grade: A
- Thoughts upon finishing:
I’m really glad I decided to read more Kazuo Ishiguro. But first, let me say that whenever I start to read something by him, I imagine that it’s going to take place in Japan or involve an Asian cast. It always throws me for a loop when I remember how decidedly English his novels are.
But back to this book: The Remains of the Day chronicles a few days in the life of a “true” English butler, Stevens, in the mid-20th century. Stevens takes a few days off to visit an old friend who has since gotten married and left her post at Darlington, the manor home where Stevens “gave what he had to give” to its former occupant, Lord Darlington. During the course of his car trip across England, he reflects on his career as a butler, its importance, his legacy as well as the implicit trust he had in his former employer.
One of the quotes on the back of the book was from Newsweek, which described this book as “Brilliant and quietly devastating.” I wasn’t sure what they were talking about until about halfway through the book, when “everything” just hit me. You realize that this book is more than just the story of one man’s life; it’s the story of his dignity and his purpose. In fact, it’s the story of everyone’s purpose, particularly as we reflect on what our lives and careers have meant in the grand scheme of things: was it worth it? Did we do things right? Did we make the right choices? If we had done things a little differently, would our lives have turned out better?
I don’t want to reveal any major spoilers, but the last few pages of this book just tore me up:
He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that? …
Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day. After all, 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?
I wouldn’t say that The Remains of the Day is as powerful as that other Ishiguro masterpiece, Never Let Me Go (WOW what a book), but it’s still powerful. In its own quiet way, yes, but it still squeezes your heart rather tightly and forces you to consider your life, what it means, everything. Well worth the read.