Jul 16, 2007

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, one of the last old-fashioned butlers in England. Stevens served Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall for 35 years, and after his master’s death, he remained working at the house when it was sold to an American gentleman. When he is given a week off by his new employer, Stevens decides to take a road trip to Cornwall to see Miss Keaton, a former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. The story, told in the first person, alternates the account of Stevens’ trip with reminiscences of the past.

I could never have guessed that an account of the life of a butler and of the details of his profession could make for such an entrancing story. But of course, the details of professional affairs of a butler are only the beginning of what this story is about. This is a tale of loss, of sacrifice, of choices and regret. Set in the 1950’s, the story also examines, through Stevens’ memories, the state of Europe before and during the Second World War, dealing with topics like anti-Semitism and fascism.

There is a sad quietness to this book that really gripped me. The degree of emotional restraint Stevens shows is almost alarming. When wondering what it is that makes a great butler, he comes to the conclusion that it is having “a dignity in keeping with his position”. In other words, it is his opinion that a truly great butler never steps outside his role unless he is completely alone. But as one reads the books, it becomes increasingly obvious that Stevens doesn’t step outside his role even when he is alone. He denies himself things like a personal life, an occasional emotional outburst, the right to criticize his employer.

As the story advances, then, one realizes that Stevens is a narrator that cannot be fully trusted. His emotional restraint is such that he is ultimately lying to himself about key matters. His memories are distorted, and, although this is never clearly stated in the book, he seems to be aware of this at some level.

I loved the subtlety of this book. It is full of feelings – full of sadness, regret, and ultimately, hopefulness – but they are palely lurking behind the page, hiding between the lines. They are disguised, but remain ever-present throughout the story.

The use of language in this book is very formal, to a degree that is almost stiff, but it remains beautiful and charming despite of that. And the ending – without giving anything away, I’ll just say that the ending is absolutely perfect. Very moving, very sad, but hopeful in a quiet sort of way.

Other Blog Reviews:
A Stripped Armchair
Trish's Reading Nook


  1. I've been wanting to read this book for a while now.

    Just had to say I love Conan Doyle. Hell, I love historical mysteries! Have you read the Bruce Alexander series? Awesome!

  2. What a great review - you've made a book that normally wouldn't, on the surface, sound appealing to me very intriguing. It brought to mind that PBS show "Manor House" - have you seen it? The man they got to play the butler had a father or grandfather who had been in the service, and there was a lot of discussion of what, exactly, that meant.

    Have you read the Laurie R. King mystery series about Holmes? It's one of my favorites!

  3. Great review! It sounds like one I'd really like. I've actually been interested in him for quite awhile, just haven't picked up one of his books and started reading. It's time.

  4. This book sounds really gentle and sweet. I'm going to add it to my wishlist.

  5. I loved "Remains of the Day" - for what it has to say about wrong choices, and how not choosing is also a choice.

    Very reflective, very beautiful. Thank you for this review.

  6. Sounds like quite a cool book. It's not the sort of thing I would pick up so it's fun to read your review. All us English people have butlers so it wouldn't be anything new for me ;)

  7. I remember seeing the movie years ago and I was left with the same impression, sad and hopeful. I always love a book that spies on the secret lives of the narrator. It sounds like a beautiful book. One more for the pile :D

  8. Mailyn: I haven't, no. I am quite new to the genre of mystery, so I appreciate any recommendation in this area. And I like the sound of historical mystery.

    Darla: Thank you :) I haven't seen it no, and I haven't read the series either, but you're the second person to recommend it to me recently, so I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Robin: Thanks! This was my first book by Ishiguro, and I too had been meaning to read him for a while. I think I'm going to try "Never Let me Go" or "The Unconsoled" next. I've heard great things about both.

    Dewey: Yes, gentle is a very good way to describe it.

    Myutopia: I need to watch the movie!

    Dark Orpheus: Yes, it's exactly that... if one postpones making choices, that ends up being a choice in itself, and it can have consequences.

    Rhinoa: lol, I bet you all do :P

    Kim: I'm very curious about the movie. It sounds like a very good adaptation from what I've read about it.

  9. I've read a couple of Ishiguro's books, but not this one. He is such a strange writer though. I definitely want to read this one!

  10. I came across the movie on TV the other day and ended up watching most of it. I hadn't seen it in ages! I'm pretty sure I've read the book too but literally years ago so the movie version has superseded it.
    I love Dark Orpheus' comment how "not choosing is also a choice".

  11. This is one of my favorite books. I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it and I really enjoyed your review. You are right, it is alarming how much Stevens is so much a butler first and foremost. I'll also chime in with Myutopia and recommend the movie. One of the few instances where I loved both film and book.

  12. OKies I rec the following historical mystery series:

    Julian Kestrel by Kate Ross

    Blue Satan by Patricia Wynn

    Sebastian St Cyr by CS Harris

    John Fielding by Bruce Alexander

    and, if you like Japanese history...

    Sano Ichiro by Laura Joh Rowland

    Something to get you started. ^__^

  13. Stephanie, I am intrigued! Which books have you read by him, and why did you find him strange? Also, what would you recommend I try next?

    Tanabata: I see that I really need to watch the movie!

    Iliana: Thank you :) I really want to watch it after seeing so many people recommend it. Normally when I really like a book I am a bit wary of movie versions, but I see there is no reason for that in this case.

    Mailyn: Thank you for the recommendations!

  14. glad to hear this is good! i really liked the film, so had hoped it would be good.

    i tried reading "the unconsoled" but just found it too hard to get into...

  15. You're the second person who I know that has read this book in a week. Hmm, someone is trying to tell me something about reading this book.

    I've actually seen the movie, and it was very well acted and well produced as a movie, adaptation or not.

    You're making so much progress on the Book Awards Challenge, I am quite envious, Nymeth.

  16. Jean Pierre: I guess I should try "Never Let me Go" next, then!

    Athena: Do read it, I think it's definitely worth it. And I've been very lucky - the books I've read for the challenge so far turned out to be very gripping and impossible to put down. I really hope my other choices turn out to be as good.

  17. I just had to say that your blog is one of my favorite daily reads! Your reviews are simply the most beautiful, well-thought out, and well-written reviews out here. I'm generally too intimidated to even comment!

    (And it was because of you that I have Terry Pratchett on my list for the New Authors Challenge. Glad to hear you think that will make a good introduction to his work.)

  18. Aw Debi, thank you so much! That is the most flattering comment ever! And please please don't be intimidated! I'd love to hear from you more often and your comments will always be welcome!

    I hope you enjoy Terry Pratchett's work :)

  19. Great review! I remember watching this movie years ago, but don't really recall a whole lot about it. I'll be reading this book either later in the year or next year. Your review is very encouraging!

  20. Trish: Thank you :) It's a very good book. I hope you enjoy it!


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