04.Dec.2010 The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
As 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?
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.
“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
The Film (1993)
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.