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.