Thursday, September 20, 2012

What really matters at the end of the day

People say that the end of the day is the perfect time for reflection. Did I do my job correctly? Am I richer today because of the things I've accomplished? Am I happy? I guess that's why a lot of folks feel that the sunset is very dramatic, for it provides moments for introspection.

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 prizewinning 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 Hallbe 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 bedall 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:

  1. You'll read anything that's won a Booker.
  2. You're fascinated with what's going on in great English houses.
  3. You love sunsets.


Anonymous said...

i haven't read an Ishiguro. hmm. i don't remember if i've seen the movie too. Will read next year na! :)

Monique said...

I love The Remains of the Day, too! :)

I hope you'll find time to read Never Let Me Go, too. If you loved The Remains' quiet tone and quality, I think you'll appreciate this, as well. :)

Peter S. said...

Hello, stokedbunny! I think you're gonna love Ishiguro.

Overthinker Palaboy said...

hmmm, not sure kung yan ang tipo ko base sa "read if" mo.. haha.

nakita ko yan na 20% off sa MIBF.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Monique! I'll read that one soon!

Hello, Overthinker Palaboy! Sayang, sana binili mo na. Hehehehehe.

Anonymous said...

Wow! This is my favorite Ishiguro book (and I only read two, hahaha). I am collecting his works, and I only need one more to be a happy Ishi-natic. :D

Peter S. said...

I highly recommend The Unconsoled, Angus!

Maan S. said...

I love The Remains of the Day! Was greatly affected by this book.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Maan! It did affect me too. I just loved the way Ishiguro developed his story.

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, actually, The Unconsoled na lang ang kulang ko, and I think I'll read that last because critics are torn about it. :)

Peter S. said...

Ah. Ako naman I enjoyed The Unconsoled a lot. Ang hindi ko masyadong ma-appreciate yung Never Let Me Go, so I put it on hold for the meantime.