The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro book cover
The Remains of the Day (1989) is a simple, heart-breaking story of personal repression and missed opportunities. The novel is narrated by Stevens, an English butler clinging on to old world gentility while the world around him embraces the new, post-war era. The reader follows Stevens as he makes a rare trip away from Darlington Hall, where he is head butler, to visit the old housekeeper Miss Kenton. Along the way Stevens reminisces about many events that took place at the Hall when it was still great, and the virtues of dignity in his profession. Through these reminiscences one begins to understand Stevens's relationships with others, in particular Miss Kenton, where failure to act cost him a much longed for romantic connection.

As the narrative progresses one’s attitude towards Stevens begins to change; where once he might have been seen as a proud English stoic he slowly becomes a figure of pity, whose own memories are distorted and hide the empty and lonely life he has lived. His blind faith in the virtue of his employer, Lord Darlington, and his unquestioning obedience are painful in hindsight.

As much as anything The Remains of the Day is a cautionary tale; in dedicating his life to work, and surrendering his own fate to the fortunes of his master, who is ultimately disgraced as a Nazi sympathiser, Stevens provides a sombre portrait of a wasted life.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s prose is subtle and innovative, his message poignant. Conducted over less than 300 pages the understated dismantling of a life is both devastating and disquietingly familiar. As an exploration of repression, blind stoicism, and decay The Remains of the Day is perfectly paced and quietly beautiful.

I really enjoyed The Remains of the Day. The book is beautifully written and very easy to read, with a poignant message and some wonderfully crafted characters.

Useful Links
Reviews of The Remains of the Day on Amazon (UK)
Film Adaptation of The Remains of the Day on Amazon (UK)

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