Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 1989

It's about: Mr. Stevens is a butler, and when he's not a butler he's....well, that's just it.  He's always and only a butler.  His life is filled with house plans and serving trays and and an unfailing quality he likes to call "dignity."  In essence, Mr. Stevens embodies the ideals and honorability of your typical English gentleman, a typical English gentleman like, say, his employer, Lord Darlington, whose gentlemanly ideals during the 20s and 30s drive him to become involved in the appeasement deals with Nazi Germany, helping lead to, instead of prevent, the second world war.  This is a story told in retrospect by Mr. Stevens as he, years after the war as he is working for an American employer, drives across the country to visit a woman who had been a very important figure in his life for a long time -- the housekeeper, Miss Kenton.

I thought: Though the story-telling technique and style are simple, this novel is intriguingly complex.  Told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, Mr. Stevens, who is only currently on the path to self-discovery and doesn't quite make it, this books begins with one layer, then continues to add deeper and deeper layers.  Like I said, it is simply told but surprisingly fascinating.  It is furthermore a unique approach to explaining, from a simultaneously sympathetic but critical viewpoint, the misguided ideals that can, and in some part did, lead to international disaster.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf

Reading Recommendations: This book is a rather quick read, so it's great for a day at the beach or any other leisurely day.

Warnings:  Nothing at all to fear from this book.

Interesting information: This novel won Ishiguro the Booker Award.  It was also adapted to film in 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, and Christopher Reeves.  It's actually a very good movie and a successful adaptation of the novel.

Favorite excerpts: "And let me now posit this: 'dignity' has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits.  Lesser butlers will abandon their professional being for the private one at the least provocation.  For such persons, being a butler is like playing some pantomime role; a small push, a slight stumble, and the facade will drop off to reveal the actor underneath. The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost; they will not be shaken out by external events, however surprising, alarming, or vexing.  They will wear their professionalism as a decent gentleman will wear his suit."