The Remains of the Day – Kazou Ishiguro

Posted 19 March, 2008 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 15 Comments


Title: The Remains of the Day
Author: Kazou Ishiguro
Date Finished: March 18, 2008
Yearly Count: 14
Pages: 245
Rating: 4/5

I don’t think I can adequately explain why I was so drawn to this book, especially as it is the type of book that I have struggled with in the past. But I couldn’t wait to read a little piece of it each day and was sad when it was over.

The Remains of the Day is the story of an aging butler, Stevens, as he embarks on a six-day road trip throughout the English countryside. Although at first Stevens is reluctant to take a vacation, he decides to follow-up on a letter he received from one-time employee Miss Kenton who Stevens believes wants to return to Darlington Hall after twenty years away. During his time away from Darlington Hall and on his way to visit Miss Kenton, Stevens reflects about his life as a butler—but more importantly to Stevens what it means to be in a position of servitude—to sacrifice and devote every aspect of one’s life to create a better life for someone else.

I’ll admit that for the first twenty pages or so, I was really questioning how good this book was going to be. The story is told through Stevens’ point of view, mostly through introspection, and the language is heavily stilted and circular (part of Stevens’ character). For such a short novel, I kept thinking it could have been made into a novella or short story and save a lot of trouble. But after the first twenty pages, I was hooked. Every free minute I had for reading, I devoured Stevens’ reminiscing, impressions, reflections—seriously, how interesting could a life of a butler be? But Ishiguro does such a beautiful and subtle job of characterizing Stevens that even 24 hours after finishing my heart still aches for Stevens.

Do I recommend it? I don’t think I’ve read any bad reviews of the book, but I could see how this could have gone the complete opposite way for me. And honestly, to not even be able to place my finger on what was so captivating about this book. Basically The Remains of the Day is a close character study of a man who allows himself no pleasure, who does not allow himself to show emotion—even when the situation desperately calls for some sort of natural human reaction, who has given up everything…for what? I don’t think I’ll see the movie, but I can see how Anthony Hopkins was a perfect choice for Stevens. I look forward to reading more of Ishiguro’s works.

15 Responses to “The Remains of the Day – Kazou Ishiguro”

  1. Joy

    I read Never Let Me Go by this author and thought it was very good. It was a slow draw, though. This seems to have the same pattern. I think I’ll look into it for a later read. Thanks.

  2. I know what you mean by it’s a book that could have gone the other way. It’s a book I wouldn’t usually like, that I wouldn’t have liked 10 or 20 years ago, but that I loved this year. I put a lot of my praise on Ishiguro, whose writing is beautiful and just seems to work for me. Wasn’t Stevens sad? And can’t you just see Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the roles?

    Very nice review, you summed up my thoughts perfectly.

  3. This one hooked me completely too, and like you I can’t exactly pinpoint why. I loved the writing, the subtlety, how emotions shone through despite all the emotional restraint that Stevens showed. I really look forward to reading more Ishiguro.

  4. *Joy – I have a copy of Never Let Me Go, but haven’t read it yet. After reading this one I’m interested to see how the styles compare.

    *Bethany – Ha! I have another book by him…so I’m just now barely getting with the program. This was a quiet book, but I really enjoyed it–hope you enjoy his writing as well.

    *Raidergirl – I’m just glad that my preconceived notions did not color my reading as I think it has done in the past. I’m really glad I picked this one up sooner rather than later. And yes, I think Hopkins and Thompson are perfectly casted. Did you see the movie?

    *Nymeth – Every time I think about this book and its quiet complexities I like it even more. Yay for good books! And thanks for the link to the challenge. I am going to try and get my brother (11 yo) to do it with me! I’ve browsed your list and am taking notes. :)

  5. Another famous book I’ve always heard good things about, but was never sure why it would be interesting. I liked reading your description of it. I wasn’t thrilled with Never Let Me Go, but perhaps I’ll try Remains of the Day…

  6. I bought this book in a £1 sale from Smiths a long time ago – bundled with the video – and never got round to reading it! I wonder if it’s gathering dust on on eof my bookshelves? *ponder*

    I have Never let me go on my TBR – maybe I should dig this one out too.

  7. *Jeane – I’m glad you liked my description, even though I’m not sure I can figure out why anyone would want to read this book. ;) It was very good but in a very unexpected way.

    *Mrs S – Well, if you end up watching the movie I’ll be interested in how it is. So much of the book is internal thought–or at least Stevens’ perception of reality that I can’t decide if it would make a good movie or not. I have Never Let Me Go as well and hope to read it soon (although “soon” is relative).

  8. I read this book maybe five years ago. I do remember it being drawn out and slow but I enjoyed it. I also liked the movie, but I tend to like anything that has Anthony Hopkins in it.

  9. *Mawbooks – I’ve been very curious about the movie–and I have to admit that I’m not sure if I would want to see it or not…seems like it would be a sleeper. I am a huge fan of Anthony Hopkins, though, so maybe I shouldn’t be so biased. ;)

  10. i just found your blog and really like it. i love books, i don’t get as much read as you do, but heck. can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the god of small things. but all the books i’ve been waiting to read (most)are reviewed on here so thanks.

  11. Nymeth pretty much hit my feelings. I loved the book and the movie, both. It surprised me that a story with such a sad ending could be so moving and powerful, but I thought Ishiguro made it clear that Stevens was a man who was unable to show emotion, but it was still there. I checked out Never Let Me Go, recently, but didn’t get to it. Soon, I hope. I’ve read several of his books, now, and I either love them or hate them.

  12. *Nikita – welcome to the wonderful world of bookblogging. :) Thanks for coming by! I probably won’t get to The God of Small Things for a few months (*sigh*), but I’ve heard great things about it.

    *Bookfool – Oh here we go again. Could this book be why I’ve been in a funk lately? Everytime I think about Stevens my heart breaks for him. He just needs to get into a good fist fight–join Fight Club. :) I’m glad to hear you liked the movie–one day I’ll have to rent it and see how it is.

  13. I suspect I need to read this now after finishing Never Let Me Go. I think Ishiguro is one of those surprising authors – you think he will be boring but then all of a sudden you are completely hooked.

  14. Verbivore – I have to admit I was planning on struggling/sleeping through this one. But I was pleasantly surprised. I’d recommend it–and hope you enjoy it.