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The Remains of the Day (1989)

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
12,933376320 (4.19)1 / 1214
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)
  1. 60
    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. 61
    Persuasion by Jane Austen (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Slow, languid stories about regret and life choices not understood until they've passed by.
  3. 50
    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (foggidawn)
  4. 40
    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.
  5. 20
    A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (Othemts)
  6. 10
    The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (mrstreme)
  7. 11
    The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (CGlanovsky)
  8. 00
    Letters Back to Ancient China by Herbert Rosendorfer (JuliaMaria)
    JuliaMaria: Nette aus der Welt gefallene Männer erklären die Welt.
  9. 11
    The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (CGlanovsky)
  10. 00
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (sturlington)
  11. 11
    Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Two inhibited, unreliable narrators
  12. 11
    The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (WSB7)
    WSB7: Both have the feeling of restraint/seil-restraint foregrounded.
  13. 01
    Deceits of Time by Isabel Colegate (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books discover Nazi affiliations in the past in prominent statesmen.
  14. 23
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (slickdpdx)
  15. 02
    When She Was Good by Philip Roth (cometahalley)

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English (342)  Spanish (7)  German (6)  French (5)  Italian (4)  Dutch (3)  Finnish (2)  Japanese (1)  Hebrew (1)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (373)
Showing 1-5 of 342 (next | show all)
Mr Stevens (first name unknown) is an English butler who has spent the best part of his career working for Lord Darlington of Darlington Hall. Lord Darlington is a distinguished and upstanding part of the English aristocracy and the book centers on Mr Stevens service under the Lord during the years between WWI and WWII. But now Lord Darlington has passed on and Darlington Hall is in the hands of a wealthy American owner.

Having reached an age when, although still fully employed, he is starting to think about the shape of the rest of his life,"the remains of the day,'' Stevens has set out on a motoring trip. His plan is to see something of the countryside, where he's lived all his life but never really explored. He decides to visit a housekeeper he once worked with and hopes to persuade Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn) to return to Darlington Hall which he hopes will run more smoothly again with her to help him. The true importance of that meeting is gradually revealed as casual anecdotes paint the picture of his life, piece by piece. Hints of larger issues are scattered throughout, slowly and carefully threaded together.

The prose is beautiful and the flashbacks are unified by the moments in the present, but it is in the present that we grow to love Mr. Stevens. This book should be a dry and humorless book, but somehow it isn't. This is a novel that is filled with charm and I plan to rent the movie soon. ( )
  Olivermagnus | Jul 2, 2020 |
A letter from an old friend and the opportunity for a road trip leads Mr. Stevens, a career butler of the Downton Abbey era, to reflect about his life and his actions both past and present, and Ishiguro brings us along on both the literal and figurative journey with skill and precision. Mr. Stevens may be one of the most authentic, realistically written characters I've read in a very long time.

I've never been a butler for one of the distinguished old houses of pre-war Great Britain, but I can very much relate to Mr. Stevens's habit of revising and reframing memories of his actions that don't fit with his image of himself. It's the kind of story crafting that we all do, I think, whether consciously or not, as we try to assemble a narrative for our life that is consistent with how we want to view ourselves.

One thing that seems to elude many authors is the art of showing character development over time, but this is something else that Ishiguro does with quiet finesse in this novel. Mr. Stevens's evolution is subtle but significant. At the beginning of the novel, he holds firmly to his accustomed way of remembering his actions in the best possible light, brushing aside the reactions of others that might provide evidence that his way of looking at the situation isn't consistent with how it actually happened. As the novel---and the road trip---progresses, we see Mr. Stevens begin to question himself and to confront the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of some of his actions.

This is the first book in a long time that had an ending that felt satisfying to me. By the end of the novel, Mr. Stevens hasn't sloughed off all of his old habits, but he's much better able to look at himself more realistically and more holistically, admitting his shortcomings with fewer rationalizations and excuses. His transformation isn't dramatic---there's no Extreme Makeover for this butler---but it's rather the kind of slow opening of the eyes that one hopes life has in store for us before night falls.

This novel I hope to revisit as a masterclass in character development and in the crafting of language that is subtle, economical, and powerful. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jun 28, 2020 |
The butler's folly
dignity above all else
some sins are worth it. ( )
  Eggpants | Jun 25, 2020 |
nostalgia ( )
  sss1234 | Jun 22, 2020 |
Audiobook performed by Simon Prebble

A proper English butler, known only by his last name: Stevens, reflects on his life’s work. Stevens has been butler and one of the great houses, Darlington Hall. He has taken great pride in serving Lord Darlington, though now the house has been bought by an American, whose style of life is quite different.

I love the way that Ishiguro reveals Stevens’ character through his musings on his journey to the Western part of England. He has convinced himself that a letter from his former colleague indicates her interest in returning to the estate as housekeeper, and he uses the time spent traveling to remember his past experiences. But as he recalls the glory days of house parties that welcomed the bright and influential people to Darlington Hall, Stevens reveals how he allowed his sense of duty and devotion to being butler in a great house to blind himself to what was really happening – both in the world at large and on a more personal level.

Because Stevens has surrendered himself to his occupational persona. He has adopted the reserved, unobtrusive, dignified ideal butler and set aside any of his own personal thoughts or opinions in favor of the character he has become. His personal relationships – with his father, with Miss Kenton – have suffered as a result. This slow realization is what makes this book so poignant and thought-provoking. The missed chances, and yet … perhaps it’s not too late to still enjoy life, to find a more satisfying path in what remains of the day.

I’ve never seen the movie, but I love both Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, and imagine it’s a wonderful experience.

Simon Prebble does a marvelous job of narrating the audiobook. He has the proper British enunciation that perfectly captures the essence of Stevens’ reserved personality. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jun 12, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 342 (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 (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ishiguro, Kazuoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bützow, HeleneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Daryab̄andi, NajafTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawthorne, NigelReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kriek, BarthoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prebble, SimonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rybicki, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stiehl, HermannTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, DominicNarratorsecondary 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.
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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A butler looks back over his career at a fine English country house while on a trip to visit a former colleague.
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