An elderly English butler, having received the suggestion that he borrow his new employer's car and 'get out and see the country', decides to go visit a former housekeeper, who worked with him. The reader is initially unsure of their relationship, but a romantic interest is implied (although denied by the narrator.)
Gradually, through his internal thoughts, we begin to see that his stated pride in the traditions of skilled service are a hollow shell, that his former employer was not the paragon of nobility that he had hoped and believed he was, and that he feels his life was likely wasted. He remains unable to engage in regular human interaction, finding even the interactions of other servants with similar backgrounds nearly impossible to understand.
I haven't seen the movie that was made of this book, but it seems a very strange choice for film adaptation, as most of the significant aspects of the novel are in the mind of the main character.
The book however, is an excellent character study, beautifully written. It does remind me of another of Ishiguro's novels, "An Artist of the Floating World." Although the characters in each book are very different from each other, they both deal with a similar sort of self-denial and shame.
It's not often that I dole out 5 stars for a book, but this one is totally deserving of such an honor. My mom and I read this at the same time, and I thoroughly enjoyed our teatime discussions after finishing each section of the book. Ishiguro paints a beautiful portrait of pre- and post-wartime England aristocracy through the eyes of Steens, the most flawed protagonist I've ever come across. He considers his "dignity" (the definition of which is the subject of debate in this novel) to be his greatest quality, when it actually hinders and even damages his life. He truly is a tragic hero in every sense of the phrase. Ishiguro is wonderful at getting his readers to think in an analytical sense ("Why would the author put that in the story? What does this anecdote say about this character?"), and I was sad to finish the book. Great rainy day reading!
This book was different from what I expected - knowing nothing about the author beforehand, I didn't quite expect a novel about a British butler. Nonetheless, Ishiguro develops this character tremendously well, and I was impressed how well his butler seemed to fulfill my notions of the great English butlers of the past. As Mr. Stevens embarks on a road trip to visit a past employer and friend, he is constantly troubled by memories of his past and his role in international affairs. At first, his memories are pleasant recollections of the glory days of Darlington hall, but he realizes that all was not as it seemed.
For fear of ruining the ending, I won't say much more, but this book really comes together in the last chapter and a half or so. Up until then, I found this a slower read than I was used to, and Mr. Stevens somewhat vagrant tales could be tiring, but all of the set-up is worth it for the end. At times heartbreaking, and at others hopeful, I think this book is definitely one to read at least once.
Don't be fooled by the name: Kazuo Ishiguro emigrated to Britain at age 5 and The Remains of the Day is written in a style completely in keeping with that of an impeccable English butler. In the summer of 1956, Stevens ventures out on a motoring holiday to the West Country when his new American employer is not in residence. During the trip, he ponders over his life in service to Lord Darlington and his working relationship with the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton, whom he calls on towards the end of the journey. As the title implies, the story concerns itself with the past; even very few details of the journey are related as it is happening. This is an intense character study of one who considers himself foremost a consummate professional, as well as a a study of class in British society. There are hints of sadness in this reflective work which I found deserving of its 1989 Booker Prize and a space on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
Stevens may not be Jeeves, or even Crichton but he is still the commensurate butler. After reading this you should certainly have a inking of how to run a stately English manor house. After three decades serving a lord, he is sent off on holiday by his new employer. We are treated to his reminiscences as he meanders to his destination, partly to see if a former housekeeper will return to the fold. Insightful, informative, downright humdrum at times, Mr. Ishiguro is still a treat to read.
As another reviewer stated, this book is deceptively simple and straight forward if you let it be. Without giving too much away, Stevens is a man who dedicates himself to his father's lifes work without questioning what his real passion is. Ishiguro is a master of wrapping up the human condition in a haunting little bow.
This is a great book. If my memory serves, it seems quite different than the movie, but with the same melancholy air about it. It is really interesting to get inside the head of a "gentleman's gentlemen", if what this character represents is real. It is such an alien way to process life and surroundings, really a completely different way of looking at almost everything. I thought it was a great book.
Well written, in that the author adopts the tone of the character very well. I haven't seen the movie, but I agree with another reviewer, it's hard to see how they could capture the essence of this book, since a lot takes place in the narrator's mind.
Stevens ponders the question afresh as he travels.
"Dignity," undoubtedly, is his reply. It is the hallmark of every great butler. Still, dignity alone is not a satisfactory answer. Further thought begs the question: What is dignity? Many long hours have been spent before, meditating on the question of dignity, but it presents itself to him again as he drives.
It is his first vacation from Darlington Hall, where he has served faithfully for thirty years. Presumably to document the English countryside he's so pleased to finally see for himself, he makes the trip with a journal close at hand. No sooner is his journey underway than he finds himself preoccupied with reflections on his career.ã
Taking advantage of the opportunity to rest and collect his thoughts, Stevens begins to write. Pause between thought is necessary when keeping a journal, in order so the pencil may keep up with the mind. Somewhere in those quiet spaces when the mind is still and fingers busied, new thoughts take the opportunity to arise, presenting angles never considered before. Stevens reiterates ideas apparently long held, as if subconsciously trying to persuade himself of something, or keep himself from thinking deeper on matters already decided. Not quite defensively, he repeats statements which would deny himself as an individual, instead assigning all areas of his life to the jurisdiction of himself as a butler.
Very little is mentioned of the splendid scenery. Instead, we find his journal dominated by reminiscence of the past, and solemn consideration of his present situation. His written thoughts show little emotion; he analyzes past and present with an impersonal sort of impartiality, almost as though he were no person of his own, and solely Lord Darlington's butler.
But somewhere under what, casually observed, would be read as indifference, an undertone vulnerably human comes through. The lines are calm and collected, strictly professional, but read between them and perhaps there can be found whispers of creeping doubt, and faint echoes of something that might once have been love.
Allowing new thoughts to arise could shed a new light on all he has known. What if he were to see things differently? It might prove things to be something other than he's believed. A man told Stevens that one cannot have dignity without freedom, and the ability to think and choose for oneâs self. His life was dedicated in it's entirety to the service of Lord Darlington. Now, since His Lordship's death, what has Stevens left to show of his own?
Compelling and lyrically written story of a man examining his life at its end and finding that the things he lived for may not have been worth the sacrifice. Some readers find it slow, I would describe it as liesurely and dream like, a book you can settle into and inhabit like a lazy summer afternoon. Sad, compelling and beautiful.
The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world in postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving a "great gentleman." But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington's "greatness" and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.
A tragic, spiritual portrait of a perfect English butler and his reaction to his fading insular world in post-war England. This was a very well written book with interesting characters. It was a very easy audio to listen to and held my attention all the way through. I would highly recommend this book to those who love great literature.
I don't know why a person with an obviously Japanese name writes a book about an English butler, but this is one that shows up on all the "best" lists, so I ordered and read it. It is reminiscent of l9th century English works, well written and an interesting take on the pre WWI mindset of England.