What do you feel, dear reader, every time you see the sunset, that huge orb slowly disappearing over the horizon? It's as if it reminds you that the day is truly over, and what remains of the day, the few hours between sunset and bedtime, is for your enjoyment.
In Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker prize–winning novel, The Remains of the Day, the one doing the reflection is an English butler named Mr. Stevens. On the surface, one sees a very servile, loyal, hardworking, and unselfish individual. Truly the qualities one could expect from a man dedicated to his job.
Mr. Stevens exists solely to serve whoever is the resident of Darlington Hall—be it a Nazi sympathizer in pre-WWII England or a rich American who's every bit the fish out of water in English upperclass society. If ever I do have the money, the genealogical heritage, and the estate to have a butler and household help, I'd go with Mr. Stevens. But what really makes Mr. Stevens tick? Is he really happy? Is he really the perfect English butler as he seems to be?
Maybe he really is happy. Perhaps what molds his existence, his persona, is his utter disregard for himself in favor of the people whom he serves. Never mind that he sacrifices his having a romantic relationship with the head housekeeper or his apparent lack of showing affection to his father even on the latter's death bed—all these are irrelevant to him. He serves his master, and that's all there is.
I loved The Remains of the Day. I loved its quiet tone. I loved Ishiguro's controlled narrative. I loved both Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton. The banter between these two are typical English: the two saying so much but really leaving out what's important. Miss Kenton's brashness equally matches Mr. Stevens's reserve. You're really hoping that something will happen with them, but the spark never catches fire. But it's still a beautiful relationship nonetheless.
Aside from The Remains of the Day, the only Ishiguro I've read is The Unconsoled, which I've read more than 10 years ago. I enjoyed that novel as well. In both novels, Ishiguro lets you in on the deepest thoughts of his main characters. The Remains of the Day does just that with Mr. Stevens. For all his musings, his daydreams, and his thoughts of what could've been, he can't escape his pragmatism, thinking if he did everything that he can as a man who serves another. And for him, that's really what counts at the end of the day.
Read this book if:
- You'll read anything that's won a Booker.
- You're fascinated with what's going on in great English houses.
- You love sunsets.