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

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

Also reviewed by
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

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This book is the second of Ishiguro that I read (first was When We Were Orphans). The style is a bit different. Easier to digest I’d say, a page turner. The author is good at giving hints to something in the past or the future, and makes me wanting more throughout the entire book.

I can’t say more without spilling spoilers. So I’m just gonna blurt it out.

*SPOILER WARNING*

I think by now almost everyone that has heard about this book knows that it is about clones (As far as I recall though, the word “clone” is only mentioned twice in the entire book). I thought most of the aspects were covered pretty well, but I can’t help wondering why the idea of parents were not discussed at all. It should be a pretty sad moment to know that everybody else out there has parents and you don’t. But I guess they’ve always known that they’re “purposefully created”, and when everybody around you has the same fate as you, you would just accept things as they are. Like a frog never really wishes to fly.

I found relationship between Ruth and Tommy is a bit hard to believe. I mean they’re really two different persons, and I can’t imagine them being together in the first place. Though if you think more about it, they’re both a bit annoying. Ruth is awfully pretentious and attention seeker. Tommy childish, weak, indecisive (he waited until Ruth allowed Kath and him to be together to do something about it? Anyway he never did much about anything.)

I’m also wondering what’s the significance of alphabets for their last name. I thought A would be the first clone for that person, B second, and so on. But they never mentioned anything about it and my theory doesn’t make much sense too, because if it’s true then if Kath’s last name is H, that means she’s the 8th clone, which means the real person where they take the gene from has probably been dead a long time ago if they wait for each clone to ‘complete’ to make the same clone. But Kath tried to find her ‘possible’ and she thought she was alive. If they make a few of the same clones at the same time, wouldn’t she wonder where the other clones are, and not just her ‘possible’? So anyway, their ‘last name’ confused me.

Many things are just eerie. The way they say ‘complete’ to mark their discontinuation to live. The way Madame and Miss Emily so matter-of-factly and cold-heartedly explain everything to them and dismiss them just like that. Not to mention the whole donor thingy.

After I finished the book, when I looked back, I thought the characters are almost void of emotions in just a very eerie way. There’s no big emotion to whatever new things that they discovered no matter how shocking it was. And rightly so. After all, they’re clones, which were doubted that they even had souls.

Rating: 4 out of 5 [Very good]
Flowing reading, satisfying climax, a unique topic that is brought very nicely. Few loose ends.

First line

My name is Kathy H.

Last line

I just waited a bit, then turned back to the car, to drive off to wherever it was I was supposed to be.

Also reviewed by

robaroundbooks | Stuff as Dreams are Made on

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

When We Were Orphans - Kazuo IshiguroThis book is the first book I got from Bookcrosser, sent direct from Sri Lanka :). Finally I’ve got a chance to read it and really, am quite happy with it. The book is on the Booker shortlist 2000. The author is Japanese-born who migrated to Britain since he was 5. So throughout the novel it all feels very English. I could hear the English accent in my head as I read it.

It’s a story about Christopher Banks, who is a famous detective in London. He grew up in Shanghai, before he left the city because of the loss of his parents. Eventually he went back to Shanghai to “solve the case” and looked for his parents. I found that the characters are quite interesting. The parents, the Japanese childhood friend, the English lady who always crossed path with Christopher, the orphan who Christopher took in. They’re not.. typical. Really, quite fascinating.

I think the book is very well written. The pace is quite slow at some places, but somehow I don’t mind. I enjoyed the words and everything he worded. Ishiguro is a good author. No wonder he has so many award winning novels. Definitely someone whose books I will watch out. His next book on my shelf is The Remains of the Day, which is the winner of Booker Prize in 1989 (which I got from my favorite used bookshop for a whooping one buck, still in jolly good condition :).

Ratings: 3.5 out of 5
Slow and enjoyable. I imagine it’s not something for everyone. It’s not a bad start at all for Ishiguro’s works.
Yes he added quite a few words into my vocabulary.

Memorable Quotes

Can you imagine an English gentleman with thick English accent saying this line: (easily the most hilarious line in the book)

“It appears to be quite permissible here to employ surprisingly rough shoves to get people out of one’s way. Though I have not yet found the nerve to take advantage of this license myself, I have already witnessed on a number of occasions refined ladies at society gatherings giving the most peremptory pushes without provoking as much as a murmur.” ~ p164, Christopher on Shanghai

Charming ;)

“She was very beautiful when she was younger. The most beautiful flower, my good sir. You cannot imagine. In this respect, I am like a Westerner in my heart. I have never wanted any wife but her. One wife, quite enough. Of course, I took others. I am Chinese, after all, even if I have lived all my life here in the foreigners’ city. I felt obliged to take other wives. But she is the one I truly cared for. The others have all gone now, and she is left. I miss the others, but I’m glad, in my heart I’m glad that in our old age, it is just the two of us again.” ~ p205 … “Certain kinds of beauty never fade.” ~ p210

Might have been one of my favorite parts. The part where Christopher talked to old Chinese man about the differences between Western and Chinese customs, how it’s quite inevitable at times to resist what’s accepted as culture.

SPOILER for discussion below (highlight to see)
I still don’t get how Christopher could think that his parents would still be held captive and alive after 15 years. All the more strange that other people in the city seem to think this way too. Like the Chinese captain, who even went all the way to take him to the old house in the middle of fighting. What’s going on there? I even dreamed about this. I thought there would be some weird fantasy twist to it later, like time traveling or whatever. But apparently he just thought they would be there, in the old house in the middle of the war. And what’s with the big case to be solved that could save the world they were all referring to? Well, these are some loose ends I’m a bit confused with.

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