Category Archives: Ishiguro, Kazuo

The Remains of the Day: Read from April 20 to 23, 2013

Well of course I’m going to give this 5 stars.

Interesting that a novel written in 1988 by a man who wasn’t born in England could write one of what I would consider one of the great novels of English literature. A lot of novels I’m sure have attempted to carry on the tradition of this sort of ‘novel of manners and society’, but this is probably the last, great one we’ll ever see. Fitting then that it would be about the ending of things.

For myself, a great novel (or any work of art) is one which gets you thinking about yourself. I tended to think a lot about my own missed opportunities, my age, what lies ahead, and most importantly the feeling of the people around me. I wondered how what I might assume someone I know is thinking or feeling could very well be wrong – that I’m oblivious to a great many things because I can’t see past my own nose.

Yet Mr. Stevens never seemed worried about this because he always knew his duty. His duty carried him through all things and so he never once questioned if he might ever be wrong. He’s even asked by Mr. Cardinal on the night of the great meeting if he believes what his Lordship is doing is ‘right’ and he only replies that it’s not his place to know. Right and wrong only become a concern to him when dealing with the topic of a butler serving a worthy employer.

Of course, putting aside lords and butlers, Mr. Ishiguro is obviously concerned with larger issues, chiefly the idea of allowing oneself to be led by another who may not be as moral as you would like – which is why Hitler is such a good backdrop since he took full advantage of people’s allegiance to the German state. That unquestioning loyalty seems quite dangerous against the Nazi flag, yet here we see it with the good intentions of a naive English gentleman and his loyal butler. And the price both paid were costly, but at least Mr. Stevens got some good advice about always looking forward and so his fate is not as bleak as Darlington’s.

Oh well, I could go on and on, and that’s what makes this such a wonderful novel. I’m glad I read it so soon after reading Fathers and Sons too – I feel as if I’ve read some of the greatest novels ever written and they are both stories I am very sad to have to put down.

78% done with The Remains of the Day

I think that the ‘unreliable narrator’ is probably my favorite point of view for a novel. As wonderfully as Tolstoy can convey the vastness of all human experience or as darkly as Conrad can plumb the depths, living through one character and getting to see where he goes wrong and triumphs is a vicarious pleasure.

When Stevens obviously can’t see the love in front of him, makes you wonder what you have missed too.

46% done with The Remains of the Day

Though the American Mr. Lewis seems to have lost the debate with his inglorious tactics, we do know that he was right. The world had changed. Gentlemen no longer where in charge – Germany was seeing to that. And so it goes that Mr. Stevens Sr., should die too, a relic of the past; large, imposing, dependable, but obsolete.

Europe was bleeding but nobody really knew it except those who were ready to take advantage.

34% done with The Remains of the Day

It’s very hard not to just devour this novel in one sitting and even though I’ve sen the film numerous times, it is like discovering these characters anew.

It never really occurred to me that his father represented more than just the old ways of English provincial life, but of the state of all human ‘dignity’ (as the west understood it) at large – hence his Lordships exasperation with the Treaty of Versailles.

17% done with The Remains of the Day

The scene involving the tiger and the unperturbed, ‘perfect butler’ reminds me of ‘The Hunger Artist’ by Kafka. In that story the hunger artist is replaced after his death by a savage panther, a beast full of life and vitality. The artist was pure restraint, denying himself the very essence of life.

This novel’s discussion about duty is the exact opposite of what Kafka was interested in but they connect too.