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The Remains of the Day (Everyman's Library Contemporary Classics Series) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 2, 2012
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An Amazon Book with Buzz: "Sweet Sorrow" by David Nicholls
"With fully fleshed-out characters, terrific dialogue, bountiful humor, and genuinely affecting scenes, this is really the full package of a rewarding, romantic read."—Booklist Learn more
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“Brilliant and quietly devastating.” —Newsweek
“A virtuoso performance ... put on with dazzling daring and aplomb.” —The New York Review of Books
“A perfect novel. I couldn’t put it down.” —Ann Beattie
“The novel rests firmly on the narrative sophistication and flawless control of tone ... of a most impressive novelist.” —Julian Barnes
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It easily surpassed it. It is a magnificent story deserving of every literary award there might be. It is, as is my personal standard for a five star rating, a truly transformative read. It’s worthy of six stars, truth be told.
It is a story of the generational change and socio-economic and political transformation that overtook England during the period between the Great World Wars. Told through the eyes of a shrinking class of English butler who had a front row seat at the changing of the guard between the landed nobility and the professional politician and businessmen of the Post-war Era.
The questions raised by the transformation are eerily relevant today. Can the institutions of democracy work in a world writ complex by technology and globalism? Is governance better left to a technocratic meritocracy that rules on behalf of the people but above their direct control?
America and Americans, and one visiting US Senator in particular, are portrayed in a predictably garish light given the time and the protagonist. The Senator is loud and uncouth and a manipulative schemer who wants to dictate to the Europeans. Even the American landscape is described as dramatic but a bit overdone.
The English “greatness,” as its described, however, is handled with British wit and aplomb. It’s the kind of classic British humor that is inevitably met with a wry smile rather than the guffaw that most comics seem to reach for today. The butler’s own loss at how to deal with the banter he suspects his eventual American employer expects from him is a humorous thread throughout the book.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the book, however, is the writing itself. It is beyond good. It is almost hallowed, using that term in a strictly descriptive rather than the religious or spiritual sense. And what makes it so, as is the case with most great literature, is the fact that the prose makes no obvious attempt to reach such heights of grandeur. There isn’t a hint of any attempt to over-achieve.
The author deals with many other themes within the confines of the primary tale. Life purpose, the plight of the lion in winter, the constant battle public figures face between public perception and reality, and the human quest for identity, all get explored with a deft literary hand that is a breeze to read, easy to enjoy, and will inevitably leave the reader with literary memories that are sure to flash back for years to come.
There is no money line per se. The book is chock full of both literary excellence and astute human insight. One of my favorites was: “A butler of any quality must be seen to inhabit his role, utterly and fully; he cannot be seen casting it aside one moment simply to don it again the next as though it were nothing more than a pantomime costume.” We often refer to it as “authenticity,” but it is key to success in all professions and, of course, all personal relationships.
Mr. Ishiguro has clearly left his legacy. We should all be thankful. And grateful. The publisher is currently offering the book at an extremely reasonable price, the Kindle price of which is below any of the top ten fiction books on the New York Times bestseller list, making it an extraordinary value.
The author writes in an understated somewhat stern way, but you will feel the abyss of the human condition between the lines. An outlandish mix of Jane Austen and Franz Kafka! The author was only 30+ at the time of writing this book, amazing. Ishiguro has published only six books so far, but those six books has given him a deserved Nobel prize.
This is surely one of the best 100 books of all time.
Top international reviews
In The Remains of the Day, Stevens takes respite from his butler’s duty to undertake a short excursion into West Country to visit Miss Kenton, a woman who once worked with him as Lord Darlington’s housekeeper. On his travels, he reminisces about his life dedicated to serving his master, proudly and faithfully and, somewhat on the margin, about the ups and downs of his volatile relations with Miss Kenton, about his father and about tiny life in the grander scheme of things.
The mastery of this book lies in how Ishiguro manages to superimpose Stevens’s ordinary, little-man’s life onto the bigger picture of the malfunctioning class system and the politics of appeasement preceding the outbreak of WW2. Or perhaps, it is the wheel of history that is superimposed on Stevens’s life. The distinction isn’t clear. None of them seem to be favoured by the author as more significant. Stevens narrates the story and to him the detail of everyday etiquette and silver-polishing is equally important as Lord Darlington’s anti-Semitic antics and top-secret meetings with influential politicians. Stevens’s loyalty is to his job. It takes precedence of his own father, over his undoubtedly deep but supressed feelings for Miss Kenton and over his better judgment in relation to Lord Darlington’s treacherous politics.
Ishiguro has captured Stevens perfectly: through his tone, his language, his actions. Stevens is more aristocratic than the lords he is serving; he is more dignified, more stiff-upper-lip. His little holiday exposes him to the world at large and the reader watches him squirm on the hook of the unwelcome reality from which he has been detached for the best part of his life. Yet, despite his aloofness and dogged devotion to a rotten aristocrat, one finds him very human, very fallible and very worthy of having his own say before the day is up.
WHAT IS THIS ABOUT? It's about the dying generation of butlers. You meet the most amazing humane, perfectly mannered, sensible, sensitive butler ever. He talks about incidents that took place in his life.
Judging by the name of the author, I thought I would have to read a book based on Japan and Japanese culture. I have read a few other books based on Japan so I was ok with the idea. However, it began and I found myself in a completely different place altogether. You see I found myself reading a memoir of a most exquisite specimen. The gentleman in question is one of a kind. His voice, his thoughts, his sweet-nothing observations are some to behold. Never does he ever judge, ridicule or look down upon on anybody. His vocation is singular and his quest in life is simple. It is to serve his lordship (or lord) to whom he has made available his services as a butler.
The book is set in a travail lasting for four days. In these four days the protagonist is driving through Britain. He makes various stops in cottages, inns and recalls his days by writing about them. I was astonished at how perfectly delightful and marvellous the writing style is.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
If you enjoy a good memoir. One that leaves you feeling a bit nostalgic over someone else's past. Or if you enjoyed reading "SENSE OF AN ENDING" by Julian Barnes, you ought to read this book.
Why should you read it?
The English, the lovely writing, the stories, the greenery you will envision, the legends of a world lost but not forgotten somehow made to come back to life by a stunning dictation.
Sense of an ending by Julian Barnes
& My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
OVERALL? Of every 20 books I read I give maybe 3 books five stars. Not just that I would go on to say this is one of the best books I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The kind of book that reminded me of why I read in the first place. What a story, what a narration, what a character, what a protagonist.
The story begins with an English butler, Stevens, who worked in a stately mansion owned by Lord Darlington, in whose home various powerful and reputable political figures has graced with covert meetings leading up to the Second World War. That Stevens had been and still is a capable and loyal butler becomes evident through his unremitting service, which he recounts in first person, even as he takes on a motorcar journey to Little Compton, Cornwall, in response to a letter he receives from his former colleague and housekeeper, Miss Kenton, when she left Darlington Hall some twenty years ago. They had shared a volatile working relationship during Lord Darlington's heyday.
And that is where the real story lies, which is almost obscured by Stevens's doddering and often self-censoring narrative, where he edits and revises along the way, seemingly unsure of what had really happened. He admits as much when he says, "But now, having thought further, I believe I may have been a little confused about this matter", when he tries to recall an occasion when he had caught Miss Kenton in a vulnerable state. He often turns preachy about his profession, and reiterates the importance of dignity ad nauseam, but through it all, the reader begins to realise that the more he elaborates, the more he hides, and in the end, he says more than he knows. That Ishiguro elicits our sympathy rather than annoyance with his unreliable narrator is truly a work of genius, because, given the qualities I had observed above about Stevens, that is no mean feat.
Stevens's unreserved dedication to his work means an inordinate amount of sacrifice, so much so that he has to give up all personal feelings and attachments, and this is something that hits the reader hard when a personal tragedy befalls him in the midst of an important event at Darlington Hall and he keeps at his task, without flinching. Throughout his narrative too, he keeps an objective, almost clinical tone, sometimes infuriating the reader for his lack of emotion, so that when he finally relents, "Indeed - why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking", you want to hug the poor old man and weep yourself, only to recognise that frustrating reserve in needing to convince himself that it was alright to acknowledge his true feelings, and that it would ultimately be shortlived.
Prior to Vulcan Dr Spock of the USS Enterprise, who was devoid of human emotion and was motivated by logic, the class-ridden social cesspit of aristocratic England was populated with overlords and their underlings including the likes of butler Stevens of Darlington House, who seems almost equally lacking in human emotion and is motivated not by logic, but by what he rather delusionally refers to as "dignity".
In comparison to Kazuo's later book, The Unconsoled, this book's main character Stevens is rather more tragic. His main failing that came across to me is that he takes himself, his work and his position in the world far too seriously. Consequently one is left to feel a mixture of sadness, ridicule (at times) and yet sympathy towards him, because he is emotionally very stunted and ironically quite naive about the world unfolding out there around him.
Although this is a work of fiction, I have come across a handful of people in real life who suffer from very similar personality problems and other social disadvantages at Kazuo Ishiguro's butler Mr Stevens. Note that the kind of problems I'm talking about are definitely NOT mental illnesses, serious personality disorders, lack of IQ or developmental problems such as Autism, ADHD or suchlike.
In reading this book, it is very easy for me to imagine people like Stevens being real, especially prior to about the early 1980s. I'm sure there were many tragic cases with many similarities to butler Stevens during the early and middle years of the 20th century. I found Stevens to be a mildly delusional and rather tragic character.
Ishiguro has either/and/or a terrific imagination, has known of such people and situations, or done his research very thoroughly to capture the essence, atmosphere, time and location of isolated "Grand Houses", their owners and some of their staff in England in the 20th century.
I give this book only three stars because I feel that the main character does not develop as someone of interest in the story, and the ending, whilst typical of Kazuo Ishiguro's works, is rather disappointing from the reader's point of view with respect to the protagonist.
During Stevens journey, he muses on his past life. It is fair to say that Stevens has spent most of his time building barriers between himself and others. His entire reason for living has been to serve Lord Darlington, who we gradually realise is undeserving of such utter loyalty. Meanwhile, his feelings for Miss Kenton, and hers for him, are poignantly revealed. Kazuo Ishiguro is a genius of an author and much of the substance of this outstanding novel lies in what he doesn't say (or write), as much as what he does - an almost impossible task for any other author. His gentle unveiling of the absurd posturing of Stevens, his inability to deal with either his own, or others, feelings, his sad regret, and Miss Kenton's attempts to breach his defences are heart rending. This is one of the most touching, and brilliantly written, novels I have read.
This novel is subtle, perhaps too subtle, and it is easy to miss the significance of some events. It would've benefitted from some more dramatic scenes showing what Stevens is willing to do for his employer -- just how far is he willing to go in his loyalty? The dismissal of the Jewish employees is certainly an example of this, but does the situation escalate after that?
The story is narrated by Stevens, and Ishiguro does an admirable job of getting inside his character's head. Some passages may be a little dry, such as the descriptions of debates about what makes a great butler, but these parts convincingly reveal character. Just as much is revealed by what Stevens doesn't say, and how he misunderstands the events around him, as by what he tells us explicitly, and so it soon becomes apparent that Stevens is not an entirely reliable narrator. It is undoubtedly a well-crafted novel, but ultimately I admired it more than I enjoyed it.
I won’t analyse it to death....A true masterpiece, worthy of its accolades.
This is one I can imagine re-reading. I find myself thinking about it still, which is always a good sign. Definitely five stars!