Audie Award Nominee, Literary Fiction, 2013
The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world in postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving "a great gentleman". But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington's "greatness" and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.
©1989 Kazuo Ishiguro (P)2012 Tantor
"A tour de force - both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order." (Publishers Weekly)
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.
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I am really enjoying the book. Simon Prebble could read me the telephone book and I would give it five stars but the format 2 version that I am listening to is full of pops and hisses.
Book blogger at Bookwi.se
Remains of the Day ended up in my reading list after being nominated for a 2013 Audie Award. I watched the movie years ago and knew the had won a Booker Award in 1989 when it came out. So after Audible had it on sale I started listening to it.
It is an excellent audiobook. Simon Prebble was a very good choice as narrator.
Mr Stevens has been at Darlington Hall for 35 years. Lord Darlington, his long time employer, passed away 3 years ago and the great house was purchased by an American business man. While the new owner is away, Mr Stevens decides to take a trip to see the former housekeeper.
His travels lead to long sections of reminiscence. The entire book is first person narration. Stevens alternates between occasionally realizing what is going on to being unable to really see what is going on around him. He maintains his ‘dignity’ even to the listener.
Much of the book is about Stevens trying to indirectly see whether the work of his life has had value. Stevens asserts that he has been great because he has served a great man. (Although many others believe that Lord Darlington was actually a fool that was played by Hitler to keep Britain out of the war for as long as possible.)
So I am struck by how different this book would be if Lord Darrington was a great man instead of someone that was out of his depth. Stevens believed that service was more important than his own happiness. And I think many readers that find this book tragic would commend him if he had served Winston Churchill or another Lord that ended up being truly great. So I wonder at the implicit idea that underlies the entire book.
On the other hand this is a great book to illustrate cognitive dissonance (the idea that we come to believe something different from reality in order to make ourselves feel better.) The best book I have read on that is Mistakes Were Made, but Not By Me.
I really did enjoy the book, it was performed excellently. And it really did challenge me to think about what we serve (or who we serve) and how thing outside our power can forever affect the way we perceive ourselves. In the end I think I come to a different conclusion then the book intended. But it is still well worth reading.
(originally published on my blog, Bookwi.se)
This book is for the Downton Abbey fans, of which I am one. I have been listening to mysteries so this is a nice change of pace. I really enjoyed the way the story was told through the road trip of Stevens,the main character and the way he looked back on his life.
Stevens is unapologetically himself till the bitter end, which ends up being a little heart breaking. He is bound by rules of convention. if only in his own mind. And although it irritated me, the way he stuck to these rules, it ultimately defines who he is and therefore it can be no other way.
The narrator did a fabulous job of giving Mr. Stephens and all the other characters unique voices. He also had a way of making sure the humor of the novel, which is subtle with subtext, came across exactly as the author undoubtedly intended it to. I thoroughly enjoyed his reading.
I don't think I could compare this book with any other. It's quite unique.
I can't say I have a favorite scene. The book is complex and tightly interwoven. But I loved Mr. Stephens and felt for him, even as he tried to keep his emotions bottled up.
It made me laugh and this was surprising.
Ok, I admit it. I only ordered it cause it was cheap. But what a simple story, but very well written and read! Dont be afraid of the older books written in older times. I was so pleasantly surprised!
Prebble's reading is spot on.
Prebble's nuanced performance of the main character.
This is a thoughtful classic. If you are looking for plot, suspence, action look elsewhere.
“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one's life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”
Kazuo Ishiguro has mastered the art of the slow reveal, the plot running beneath the surface which never surfaces all the way. In this book, he has also mastered the voice of Mr. Stevens, the excruciatingly perfect butler of Darlington Hall, a man who is as inflexible and honor-bound and loyal as a samurai in his service to his employer.
Describing a day trip he takes in the 1950s to visit a former employee of Darlington Hall, he continually goes back to the 30s, when his former employer, Lord Darlington, was a "great man" in British politics. He reminisces about the duties of butlers and the importance of a staff plan and the meaning of dignity, all in an unflinching utterly proper manner that refuses to betray a hint of doubt or distress or, indeed, emotion.
“Why, Mr Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?”
We learn, eventually, that Mr. Stevens had deep reservoirs of emotion, buried for years, and doubts and regrets, which only emerge in the twilight of his career, at the remains of the day.
The personification of the perfect English butler, confronted with mortality and lost opportunities and the realization that his employer might have let him down, has probably never been more perfectly captured. This is a rich story with very little drama - all the depths are between the lines.
This is the first Ishiguro or Prebble book I've listened to and I was impressed by both. This is a beautifully written, poignant character study. It's got a really well-developed first person perspective and, though it's steeped in a specific era (and rich with detail at that), it has a timeless message. Prebble is a joy to listen to and does a great job shading character voices. I'm eager to check out Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go now and will definitely look for more from Prebble too.
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I can’t help comparing and contrasting “Remains of the Day” with “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. The first is a minor literary masterpiece, the second a jejeune bit of literary fluff that had its faddish moment of popularity and will be unremembered a decade hence. But in what consists the difference?
Is “Remains of the Day” a better novel simply because of Stevens "good accent and command of language"? Or is it gilded by historical perspective: is mid-century past simply more romantic than the current decade; is it inevitable that prose from that era will inherently have more literary “quality” than something written for the internet audience?
The superiority of “Remains of the Day” resides in the profundity of its theme. Ishiguro has hit on a cultural truth: that the characteristics that defined what was quintessentially British, when “British” was still a unique culture, were reified in the personae of the butler from a great house. Not in Rachel Joyce’s (or T.S. Elliot’s) hapless everyman, not in Anthony Trollope’s patrician nobility and clergy, but in that singular cultural habiltator, the butler. Don’t ask me to enumerate these cultural traits: even the butler, James Stevens cannot define them . But he knows what is and is not “British”.
Culture is critically important but impossible to define. Ishiguro may have come as close as anyone has to fixing upon the definition of the culture of Imperial Britain. Thanks, perhaps, to that ever so slight separation between himself and British tradition.
If you are forced to choose, listen to this before “Harold Fry”.
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