The Remains of the Day Paperback – Jun 1993
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The novel's narrator, Stevens, is a perfect English butler who tries to give his narrow existence form and meaning through the self-effacing, almost mystical practice of his profession. In a career that spans the second World War, Stevens is oblivious of the real life that goes on around him -- oblivious, for instance, of the fact that his aristocrat employer is a Nazi sympathizer. Still, there are even larger matters at stake in this heartbreaking, pitch-perfect novel -- namely, Stevens' own ability to allow some bit of life-affirming love into his tightly repressed existence. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Greeted with high praise in England, where it seems certain to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Ishiguro's third novel (after An Artist of the Floating World ) is a tour de force-- both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order. Stevens, an elderly butler who has spent 30 years in the service of Lord Darlington, ruminates on the past and inadvertently slackens his rigid grip on his emotions to confront the central issues of his life. Glacially reserved, snobbish and humorless, Stevens has devoted his life to his concept of duty and responsibility, hoping to reach the pinnacle of his profession through totally selfless dedication and a ruthless suppression of sentiment. Having made a virtue of stoic dignity, he is proud of his impassive response to his father's death and his "correct" behavior with the spunky former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. Ishiguro builds Stevens's character with precisely controlled details, creating irony as the butler unwittingly reveals his pathetic self-deception. In the poignant denouement, Stevens belatedly realizes that he has wasted his life in blind service to a foolish man and that he has never discovered "the key to human warmth." While it is not likely to provoke the same shocks of recognition as it did in Britain, this insightful, often humorous and moving novel should significantly enhance Ishiguro's reputation here.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
By Kazuo Ishiguro
Faber and Faber, 1989.
"It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days."
Thus, Kazuo Ishiguro begins Mr Stevens' six-day journey to Cornwall in 1956 to reclaim the services of Miss Kenton, lost to both his employer and himself some twenty years before. Set in the 1930s at Darlington Hall, a secluded mansion in the romantic, English countryside, The Remains of the Day is a delicate story told by a masterful storyteller of the friendship between Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton, the butler and the housekeeper, and the love that grows between them and lasts for the rest of their lives.
Set against the backdrop of the quiet beauty and elegance of the fading world of English aristocracy, The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize in 1989. It highlights Ishiguro's gift for poignant character studies of masculinity that continues with Mr Ryder in The Unconsoled (1995).
Mr Stevens is the perfect, English butler, studious and analytical, sensitive and diplomatic, with all the refined elegance of a gentleman's gentleman. But Mr Stevens is also the flawed man of Shakespearian tragedy. Since the most important thing in his life is always the practice of his profession, he is oblivious to the world around him. He entertains no opinion about the covert dinners at Darlington Hall with Germans and other heads of Europe in the lead up to WWII and is ignorant of his own repressed love for Miss Kenton. Mr Stevens' identity is subsumed by his role as butler.Read more ›
Stevens gladly sacrifices his personal life (such as it is) in order to provide good service to Lord Darlington, and finds dignity and purpose in "serving those great gentlemen at the hub of this world." In his unstinting professionalism Stevens is oblivious to the overtures of Miss Kenton, Darlington Hall's housekeeper. Ultimately, Stevens questions his loyalty to the perfidious Lord Darlington and regrets his decision to ignore Miss Kenton's romantic advances.
While the tone is rather gloomy up until the very end, Remains of the Day is actually and uplifting and reaffirming tale. Stevens, while never breaking his buttoned-up professional character, realizes that he must make time for himself and forgive himself for allowing his personal affairs to fall into a state of desuetude.
Remains of the Day falls short in dealing with the other characters, none of which exhibit the strength and believability of Stevens. The backward-looking narration style is effective in emphasizing Stevens's increasingly introspective nature, but Ishiguro is unable to build other strong characters to interact with Stevens. Furthermore, the fact that Stevens has his epiphany with a stranger is a strong break in character, and proves to be an ineffective climax. Overall, Ishiguro crafts a good, but not by any means great, read in Remains of the Day.
Yet again, Ishiguro makes use of the fickle processes of memory recall, giving his book a very familiar and organic feel. Events unfold like yellowed notes dropping haphazardly from old books as one pulls them from their shelves on a lazy afternoon.
James Stevens, butler to Darlington Hall, is on a slow motor-trip towards the West country hoping for a second chance to make up for a life wasted on misplaced trust. During this trip he reminisces on the events up to that point and comes to realize that striving to be "possessed of a dignity in keeping with one's position" entailed sacrifices much greater than anticipated. At the same time, the rewards for this accomplishment are very conditional.
The book is mesmerizing and beautiful, the characters deep, their motives familiar and their decisions universally understood. Kazuo Ishiguro not only recreated the 1930's atmosphere but also a timeless character that embodies the essence of dignity - and exemplifies the irrevocable consequences of misplaced loyalty.
The role of Ms Kenton in the book is to highlight the unreal world that Mr Stevens lives within. There is an obvious sense of closeness between the two characters, however due to Stevens' sense of being honourable and the duty that comes from being honourable, this allows only evotional frustration to Ms Kenton. Stevens is a portrait of repressed identity. He is unable to come to terms with his feelings and is unable to offer opinions about the politics of his master or more importantly about his own emotions.
The Remains of the Day is a wonderful book. It is extremely well written by Ishiguro and has become a close friend. It has become a book that I return to when I want to read something of the highest quality. It is a piece of writing that I believe will pass the test of time.
Most recent customer reviews
Wonderful book. Subtle, funny, poignant. A portrait of a man so emotionally repressed that he doesn't even know he has emotions and can't sense it in others. Read morePublished 5 months ago by joan galloway
I don't know whether I want to strangle Mr. Stevens or sit down with him and commiserate over the sad turns that life can take. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Daffy Bibliophile
Book is, in the first person, a story of an English butler, his experiences and his total dedication to his work. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Keith Weaver
It is certainly one of the greatest contemporary books in English for a very simple reason. Namely, if we forget about the exact time frame or locus and socio-cultural conditions... Read morePublished on Feb. 26 2013 by Boyko Ovcharov
This was the best contemporary book that I read as part of my English degree at university. It is about duty, human relations, love, and fear of our emotions.Published on July 17 2010 by Anardana
What to add - so many 5* reviews, and I couldn't agree more.
Ishiguro's prose is brilliant, and his characterization sublime. Read more
This book is not the one that you think it is. You are bying a Penguins Reader: Kazuo Ishiguro's marvelous novel is «retold by Chris Rice». Read morePublished on Oct. 23 2005 by Gérald Allard