Date read: 1.4.06
Read from: Personal collection
Stevens is the quintessential English butler: dignified, humorless, and obsessively devoted to his work, he defines his life through his service to the late Lord Darlington. Convinced for decades that he has contributed to humanity by serving a great man, Stevens begins to reevaluate his experiences as he embarks on a country drive through postwar England. As he does, he finds that many of his memories – of his unthinking adulation of Lord Darlington, and of his difficult relationship with Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper – begin to take on a disturbing cast.
The Remains of the Day, like all Ishiguro novels, is intimately psychological and beautifully, beautifully written. Ishiguro always strikes a balance between wandering reminiscence and tight, artful construction. Reading one of his novels is like opening a tiny box to find an intricately meandering labyrinth inside. It takes patience to make your way through, but the delicate tension throughout presses you onward and lends a sense of direction and quiet urgency to the narrative. I haven’t read a novel of his in several years (this is an old review), but I have always had the sense that he paints with light and shadow: my memories of scene from his books are suffused with soft light and atmosphere, like dreams or out-of-focus photographs.
Ishiguro’s characters often seem to exist in voids of their own creation, set adrift in their memories until they are finally driven to seek out real contact and attempt resolution. For the first half of The Remains of the Day, you meet almost no other characters except through the lens of Stevens’ recollections, so that you half-believe his immaculate persona – until Miss Kenton appears on the scene as a disruptive force and exposes his pettiness and hypocrisy, both to the reader and himself. This is a novel about self-delusion, history and personal history, and the ways in which we can be reconciled with them – again, themes central to most of Ishiguro’s works.
The only disappointment to me in reading The Remains of the Day was actually the last two pages. I found the ending was a little too abrupt and pat, too suddenly transformative, almost out of character. Perhaps it will sit better with me with a re-read and a reintroduction to Stevens’ character, especially since a lot has changed in my understanding of people since my first read.