The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayAs I entered the novel, a sense of familiarity quickly came to me: the distinctively British language, eloquence and subtlety. I knew I was in good hands, of someone who really knows what he’s doing. My first Ishiguro was When We Were Orphans (ridiculous plot, but again, delicious British style), my second being Never Let Me Go (clinical clean language, intriguing plot), and I have to agree with many people (and the Booker judges) that The Remains of the Day is the peak of his greatness.

Stevens is an old-fashioned butler who has been working his entire life at an old style English house (mansion to be exact, or castle? Anyway, it’s huge). Being a butler is not just his job, it’s his entire life. He has extreme pride for what he does, who he works for, and who he is for his profession. Because of his extreme, rather odd views of things, he is somewhat socially imbalanced, and that causes him to be caught in all kinds of interesting situations with the people around him.

The basic premise is not what I would call my kind of story as it deals with upper class society in a wealthy country, albeit it’s the butler who gets the spotlight. Having said that, I was totally absorbed into Stevens’ thoughts and life from beginning to the end. This is a book that is heavily based on characters rather than plot, and what a great characterization Ishiguro has done. Everything about Stevens is so believable, so well-developed. And the ending will surely take your breath away. It did mine. It was so tragic, so devastatingly heartbreaking.

Jess, my book fairy who passed me the book, described it as “pitch perfect” and I couldn’t agree more. What really stood out for me, apart from the language, was the technique. It felt like Ishiguro has painstakingly rewritten and edited the book, again and again, honing it to perfection. No word was wasted, no gesture was not meaningful, no speech was unnecessary. It was so clean, so lean, so articulate. Yes, it was pitch perfect!

As the basic story is not one that is close to my heart, it probably won’t end up as my favorite book of all time. (Maybe it will maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.) But as a novel, it is amazingly accomplished. Give me another Ishiguro’s anytime of the day. I’m sure I’ll end up reading all his books eventually. I would therefore give The Remains of the Day the perfect 5 stars. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Can you think of a book in which the basic story is not close to your heart but you think it works perfectly as a novel? What’s the next Ishiguro would you recommend? The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World, or A Pale View of Hills? Any that you feel strongly about from the three?

5 stars
1989, 258pp

First Line
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.

Memorable Passage
“There was, for instance, the question of cost. For even taking into account my employer’s generous offer to ‘foot the bill for the gas’, the costs of such a trip might still come to a surprising amount considering such matters as accommodation, meals and any small snacks I might partake of on my way. Then there was the question of what sorts of costume were appropriate on such a journey, and whether or not it was worth my while to invest in a new set of clothes.” ~ p10

Read the Book, See the Movie, The Man Booker Prize, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Reading the World

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Steph & Tony Investigate!
| Arukiyomi

The Film (1993)

remains of the day film

The film was nominated for 8 Oscars in 1994 for Best Actor, Actress, Costume, Art/Set Direction, Director, Picture, Music, and Writing. (too bad it didn’t win any. But their competitors of that year were Schindler’s List and The Piano. Tough competition!)

Stevens the butler was played by Anthony Hopkins beautifully, as well as Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton the housekeeper. The movie stayed very true to the book, it captured the mood very well, and the important scenes were played better than what I imagined while reading.

The setting in Darlington Hall was amazing. I got to see everything that was hard to imagine by myself: the summer house, dining room, kitchen, servants’ quarter, drawing room, library, etc. There were even a couple of nice extra touches that I don’t recall being mentioned in the book, like secret passages for the servants to go from room to room without being intrusive (so fun!) and the myriad of labeled bells connected to different rooms.

The Remains of the Day is a wonderful movie. Really well done. And for me the tragedy was even more apparent than in the book. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

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32 thoughts on “The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro”

  1. You’ve read this and watch the movie too!! I do want so badly. I would like to see you reading A Pale View of Hills, many gave up on An Artist of the Floating World, including myself.

    1. Jo, you gave on An Artist of the Floating World?! I haven’t heard anyone talking about the book actually. I may read A Pale View of Hills next, since I have the book on my shelf! And yes you should pick up The Remains of the Day :)

      1. Oh yay you loved it! I have only one Ishiguro left to read, which I plan on doing this month actually (When We Were Orphans) and it saddens me because his books just resonate with me. In fact, I read An Artist of the Floating World this year and it made my best-books list. :D

        Happy new year, Di! Missed you a lot!

        1. claire, good to hear from you! Happy new year and miss you too! I might just bump up An Artist of the Floating World now because of you!

  2. Too bad I didn’t read the book – you gave it five stars? – but the movie is great…Anthony Hopkins was excellent with his erudite, eloquent manner with all the touches in the right place…and the regret at the end really came through to me.

    1. mrdes, yes I really really enjoyed the book and it’s technically very accomplished, so 5 stars I gave! I agree with you on the movie and Anthony Hopkins. The ending is my favourite part. So effectively sad.

    1. Jackie, would love to know what you think about it. It’s not plot heavy, but I have an inkling you’d like it anyway.

  3. I want to see this film, even though I am not Anthony Hopkins’ biggest fan. I thought this book was superb, and it’s my favorite of the three Ishiguro books I’ve read so far. It plays to all of Ishiguro’s strengths without getting weirdly obscure (like A Pale View of Hills, for instance). Gorgeous.

    1. Claire, can’t believe you haven’t tried his books! I admit I was first drawn to him for his Japanese name. Lucky he’s a good writer ;)

  4. Oh, this was really a perfect 5 star book in my eyes too! And I had a horrible first Ishiguro experience as I so loathed Never Let Me Go! But this. Brilliant and wonderful and totally made me reconsider my feelings about the man. Now I’m excited to read his other books too!

    1. Steph, I quite liked Never Let Me Go and didn’t dislike When We Were Orphans too, so so far I haven’t got any bad experience with Ishiguro. Fairly positive in fact, as I keep reading his books, more than most of the other authors! Good to know The Remains of the Day changed your mind!

    1. Rebecca, oh I would love to write essay in high school on this book! Though I’m not sure if I could appreciate it much if I read it back then.
      Yay finally, a recommendation for A Pale View of Hills. I look forward to reading that.

  5. Forgot to tell you something…so here I am…

    When you mentioned “the distinctively British language, eloquence and subtlety…”, E.M Forster came to my mind…recommend his “Where Angels Fear to Tread” or “A Room With a View”…simply delightful language…made me feel like an Englishman…his is the truly British style:P

    1. mrdes, thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t read any E.M. Forster but now I want to! I checked his novels and A Room with a View, Maurice, and A Passage to India called out to me.

    1. Stephanie, Never Let Me Go seems to be the popular choice for Ishiguro, for quite an obvious reason I guess. I highly recommend The Remains of the Day for your next Ishiguro!

  6. I found this book perfect too – I’m so glad you loved it! Sadly I can’t comment on what your next Ishiguro should be, because I’ve only read this and Never Let Me Go. But considering how much I loved them both, I really need to do something about that.

    1. Nymeth, that makes sense since they’re two of his most popular books. Lots of people seem to have read Nocturnes as well, but it’s lower priority for me since it’s a collection of short stories.

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