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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
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The Remains of the Day (1989)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,213225325 (4.19)1 / 829
  1. 50
    An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (bibliobibuli, browner56)
    browner56: The consequences of misguided devotion treated from both the British and Japanese perspectives.
  2. 40
    Persuasion by Jane Austen (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Slow, languid stories about regret and life choices not understood until they've passed by.
  3. 30
    What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem by E. S. Turner (thorold)
    thorold: It's fascinating to put these two classic studies of the relationship between the English upper classes and their domestic servants side-by-side: one a delicate psychological novel, the other a gossipy work of social history.
  4. 30
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (foggidawn)
  5. 21
    The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have the feeling of restraint/seil-restraint foregrounded.
  6. 10
    A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (Othemts)
  7. 10
    The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (mrstreme)
  8. 11
    When She Was Good by Philip Roth (cometahalley)
  9. 00
    The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (CGlanovsky)
  10. 11
    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Two inhibited, unreliable narrators
  11. 00
    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (CGlanovsky)
  12. 01
    Deceits of Time by Isabel Colegate (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books discover Nazi affiliations in the past in prominent statesmen.
  13. 13
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (slickdpdx)
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English (205)  German (3)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  Finnish (2)  French (2)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (221)
Showing 1-5 of 205 (next | show all)
I had heard a lot of good things about this novel, and with such a reputation I looked forward to reading it. However, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointed after I finished. I agree that the prose itself is excellent, but as a whole the book just didn't work for me. There were individual sections I enjoyed, but overall it was, well, boring. There was little or no plot to drive it, and the character of Stevens got a bit too repetitive for me towards the end. Despite the book's many fans, this was one book that simply didn't do it for me. ( )
  bookwormam | Jul 8, 2014 |
Equal to a typical definition of true Englishman this book is of similar fashion: calm, reserved and dignified. A story of a refined butler Stevens and the house he served in for most of his life named Darlington Hall.

Stevens is all about decorum, orderliness and standards. So much so that personal feelings, opinions and his own life are disconnected if present at all. Told in the first person himself, Stevens reflects on his life and analyzes his past behavior as he reacted to specific situations and how if done differently his life may have played out.

Some may say this was a slow moving book but I think the unhurried pace was necessary and accurate in authentic English style as each layer of the character was unravelled for us to see. Brilliantly written and absorbing. ( )
1 vote missjomarch | Jun 23, 2014 |
If the synopsis of this novel sounds boring, I assure you that its execution is not. Even as I was reading, I would pause from time to time and wonder how on earth such a story could be interesting — but it is, and quite so at that.

The story itself is a patchwork of vignettes stitched together by Stevens’s commentary. Through his eyes we witness the meetings of prominent men, exchanges between members of the house staff, and, in the background, history unfolding and times changing. We pick up on the themes he loves best and begin to notice things he himself seems to overlook. We hope he will eventually return to such-and-such a thread to fill in the gaps left by vague allusions. And through it all, we follow his progress from Darlington Hall to Little Compton — and his impending reunion with Miss Kenton – over the days of his trip.

I was pleasantly surprised by how readable the prose was. It could have been dense, but instead it was both pitch perfect and easy to read. The pages flew by with the miles and memories.

Full review is posted on Erin Reads. ( )
  erelsi183 | Jun 20, 2014 |
Anthony Hopkins, the actor who played Stevens in the film of this novel, made the comment ‘It’s about all of us really. It’s about all of our lives, the mistakes we make, the decisions we make, inner loneliness, dishonesty, self-deception’ and Ishiguru himself said “I wanted the story of ‘The Remains of the Day’ to be a universal one”. These are, I think, why the novel is so successful. On the one hand it has all the immediacy of a quirky story following the anachronistic life of a butler in comparatively modern England and on the other hand it is about the way we try to convince ourselves that things are as we want them to be and we haven’t made any bad mistakes despite knowing we have i.e. the outcome of the novel clearly transcends the limits of the plot.

It’s the gentle, self-denying Stevens with whom the reader sympathises despite the way he rejects Miss Kenton’s advances. That’s mainly because Ishiguru draws us into Stevens’ position. I think it’s the structure that allows this. So, though told in the past tense, it is mainly a day by day account of his trip, one which allows him to give his feelings with the immediacy of the present tense every now and then. So, at the start when he has decided to make his trip to see Miss Kenton, we can see how uncertain he is about her feelings about returning to Darlington Hall. He tells us he has reread her letter several times and ends up saying ‘there is no possibility I am merely imagining the presence of these hints on her part’. Ishiguro, then, by suspending the events in the recent past, having Stevens recall them, as it were, each evening, allows us to share his growing uncertainties and to feel more spontaneously and vividly his emerging feelings and doubts – ‘it was then that I felt the first healthy flush of anticipation for the many interesting experiences I know these days ahead hold in store for me’ – mixing tenses but also makes us concerned about how things will turn out – we don’t share his positive frame of mind necessarily.

Ishiguru also uses the landscape to give us further insight into Stevens’ downhill slide into self-recognition. So, when Stevens gets lost on his way to Tavistock, the landscape and episode seem a metaphor for what has been happening in his life. He acknowledges that he has been given sound directions - ‘She had given me thorough directions’ (the ‘she perhaps suggestive of Miss Kenton) but he still ‘failed to find any trace of this roadside establishment . . . I found myself out on a long road curving across, bleak, open moorland . . . I had only a few more minutes of daylight left to me . . . One had to confess, at that moment, to being overcome by a certain sense of discouragement’. The fact that he can’t find a path to the village below is a sign of how, like the lack of success of his bantering, he can no longer find a way to the warmth of humanity having cut himself off from it for so long. Then we have ‘it was not a happy feeling to be up there on the lonely hill, looking over a gate (i.e. a barricade) at the lights (i.e. warmth) coming on in a distant village all but faded, and the mist growing ever thicker’.

I think it’s Ishiguru’s use of nature that makes for the most poignant note in the book when Stevens realises he has made a complete mess of the life of which he had been so proud so when he’s told ‘the evening’s the best part of the day’, we know for Stevens it will be just a time of increasing loneliness and regret. Ishiguru certainly knows how to capture extreme sadness as he did late in “Never let me go’. ( )
  evening | Jun 13, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

Of Greatness and Dignity

March 2012. The attendees of our book club’s book discussion voted for the book that we’ll be discussing on July 2012. The nominees were The Color Purple by Alice Walker, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. These three novels have a common denominator: they are winners of literary awards. I’ve been associated with such books by my friends; hence, I was selected to lead the discussion for the winning book. I’ve already read all three, so I voted for the book that I can barely recall, which is To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee’s only novel lost by one vote to The Remains of the Day. I was annoyed at first because it hasn’t been a year since I first read it, and I dreaded rereading it because the devastation that it wrought upon me is still fresh. It’s like salting a still open wound, and why would anyone do that unless he is a masochist?

Looking back, I am mighty glad that this book won. Rereading it is a bittersweet experience. In fact, it’s the first book that I ever reread. I even listened to it on audio, so going back and forth through it brought a somehow clearer perspective of what Ishiguro was trying to say. I felt that I had a better understanding of the decisions that Mr Stevens, the butler-protagonist, made that led him to waste his life for the sake of his career.

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. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. In comparison, the sorts of sights offered in such places as Africa and America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness.

Mr Stevens, the head butler of Darlington Hall, goes on a motoring trip and muses over the key events of his life and his career. He is an uptight, precise, and dignified gentleman who aspires to be one of the great butlers of his generation. He turns over various thoughts on greatness and dignity, and he does so at length that he sometimes finds himself revising and reshaping his own opinions on the matter. For Mr Stevens, dignity is keeping the professional demeanor demanded from a butler at all times. This belief, which is challenged several times as the events from the past are revealed, is what ultimately led him to what he is at the latter stage of his life.

His beliefs on professional decorum are pushed beyond the end of the spectrum that he ends up hiding and not telling anyone at all what he truly feels. An example of this is the conference of March 1923 at Darlington Hall, an event that sought to alleviate the punishment of Germany as stipulated in the Treaty of Versailles. This, for me, is a critical moment in the novel. This is where the wavelength of the drama surges to one of its peaks. I would find it hard to understand if people are hardly moved by the events that took place during this event hosted by our protagonist’s employer, Lord Darlington. It is indisputable that Mr Stevens, like his father, is working hard to becoming the great butler of his own terms. We describe him as serious, hardworking, and dedicated. He is, in various aspects, a professional.

So when his dilemma of duty versus family started to swell, I could feel the devastation lapping again on the surface. I am amazed that the narrative did not display maudlin sentimentality and that is something inherent in an English butler, a person capable of great temperamental restraint.

It is also at this point where the musings on the greatness and dignity of a butler are synthesized. We may not easily approve of Mr Stevens’s choice of action during that night, but we have to understand that he will make that choice no matter what. He will pay for it in the end. He will make more similar choices which will ultimately resign him to the Darlington cage.

Besides, that is who he is: a person self-trained to strive for what he has set for himself upon starting his profession, taking upon himself the necessary strains and sacrifices. But are these real necessities? Is this not a case of misguided notions of greatness and dignity? Isn’t the late unveiling of this disillusionment an irreparable damage to everything that one has held so dear? Isn’t this, the undevelopment of your beliefs, too harsh a reality?

I cannot try to imagine the magnitude of Mr Stevens’s loss and regret without causing a little hurt in my heart. And I have only illustrated one example. There is still the matter with Miss Kenton, the head housekeeper whom he has loved all his life and yet, whom he never gave a single hint of what he felt. As the narration of Mr Stevens unravels, doubts about the character of his employer and his what-if’s regarding the turning points concerning Miss Kenton blight the illusion he built for himself.

And at the end of the day, at the late years of his life, what does he have? There we see all the sadness engulfing Mr Stevens as he finally admits that his heart is breaking. Oh Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?

This novel filled with well-thought metaphors, nostalgic English rhetoric, delicate handling of giant themes, elegant pacing, subtle building of plot, and unforgettable characters, is an almost perfect one. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 205 (next | show all)
We can work out the date of Stevens's expedition ... Ominous dates. ... the Suez crisis dominated British current affairs. ... Stevens is not returning to a golden evening ... there are no remains -- except in the sense of `corpse'.
added by KayCliff | editWhere was Rebecca shot?, John Sutherland (Mar 5, 1998)
 
The Remains of the Day is too much a roman à thèse, and a judgmental one besides. Compared to his astounding narrative sophistication, Ishiguro's message seems quite banal: Be less Japanese, less bent on dignity, less false to yourself and others, less restrained and controlled. The irony is that it is precisely Ishiguro's beautiful restraint and control that one admires, and, in the case of the last novel [The Remains of the Day], his nerve in setting up such a high-wire act for himself.
added by jburlinson | editNew York Review of Books, Gabriele Annan (pay site) (Dec 7, 1989)
 
Kazuo Ishiguro's tonal control of Stevens' repressive yet continually reverberating first-person voice is dazzling. So is his ability to present the butler from every point on the compass: with affectionate humor, tart irony, criticism, compassion and full understanding. It is remarkable, too, that as we read along in this strikingly original novel, we continue to think not only about the old butler, but about his country, its politics and its culture.
 

» Add other authors (34 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ishiguro, Kazuoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kriek, BarthoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rybicki, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stiehl, HermannTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In memory of Mrs Lenore Marshall.
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It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.
Quotations
The English landscape at its finest—such as I saw this morning—possesses a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess. It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term 'greatness.' And yet what precisely is this greatness? 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. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
A butler looks back over his career at a fine English country house while on a trip to visit a former colleague.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679731725, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:03:37 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

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.… (more)

» see all 14 descriptions

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