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)
This is not a new book, but it was new to me this year, and wow, just wow. The author overlays a deep undercurrent of emotion with plain, simple language and a seemingly simple story. I've never read anything quite like it. I listened to this on a long car trip and the time zoomed by. It's a book that's also an experience.
I like Kazuo Ishiguro for they way that he deals with memory and how people cope with difficult parts of their past. This novel was no exception to his typical skill and insightfulness in dealing with this idea.
What a wonderful story beautifully read with tender understanding. It starts slow but stick with it, you won't be let down. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I just couldn't get in to this book - I tried 2 times to listen to it thinking it was me. It was the book. The narrator was great, the idea was wonderful, the writing was fine but sooooo boring. I thought maybe something interesting was just around the corner but no, just boring.
I'm a geologist and I use Audible books to while away long hours on the road... My pickup truck is my reading room!
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”.
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!
“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.
The Remains of the day is a work of art. The writing so effortless that initially the reader would believe it’s about servants in the United Kingdom prior to WWII. Each word is chosen; the sentences constructed in such a way that initially one wonders how they will get through such a tediously slow and methodic work. Once the reader clicks in that the pace is intentional and the still waters are deep – the beauty of this beautiful work overtakes you. At the end you feel blessed to have learned a lesson in the nick of time.
The story takes place over as Mr. Steven’s, an English butler, motors to visit a former staff person. During his drive he reminisces about events in his life, when he felt he was on the edge of greatness and during times that he shared with his former employee, in a first person point of view. The reader sees the picture from a clearer perspective than the narrator as her motors farther and farther away from his typical surroundings.
Avid audio book listener, harsh critic too.
I want to be able to give this review without disrespecting the author; I’m going to try, but I still have to be honest. Kazuo Ishiguro is obviously intelligent and well educated. But for the life of me, I can’t see how anyone would give this book a favorable review, let alone almost everyone that has ever read it. It’s odd that this book is considered a classic and introduced it’s author to the world, and was even made into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins. Potential readers beware; this book is perhaps the dullest story in the history of literature.
The considerable number of reviews that praise this book mention “an elegance of literature”, or something to that effect. Well, if you mean sounding very British and using three or four large words in every sentence, then yes, it’s elegant. In fact, if someone needed an adviser in how to speak as an intelligent, boring, English butler, I couldn't imagine anyone being as well versed as Kazuo Ishiguro. But what of the story? Isn't that the most important part of fiction?
This review may seem unfair coming from someone that has never been an author, but I am an avid reader, and one with no need for explosions, romance, or teen heroes that have special abilities and are the only ones that can save the world. I simply need something about the characters and story to be interesting. Nothing actually “happens” in Remains of the Day. If someone was to abridge this book and leave only the most significant thoughts and conversations, my guess is we would only be left with about 3 % percent. Not that the 3% would be entertaining.
In my abridged version, there would be a very mild chewing from someone that wonders if being the butler of a man that wants peace with Hitler is worthwhile, and the main character would ever so briefly think about it, but come to the conclusion that he’s not the kind of guy to consider such things. He is after-all, a coward who doesn't live his own life or have opinions. Finally, he speaks to a woman that he may or may not have had feelings for a long time ago, and she may or may not have had feelings for him. Like him, she’s soft spoken and would never go against the status quo, so they don’t tell each other except in subtle, polite, boring code. Then she goes back to her life and he sits on a bench and realizes that perhaps his own boring future is enough. The End.
Literally, all other moments in the book are details about things as trivial as wondering if someone has the skills to be hired on at the manner, making a list of exactly what duties should be given to each person being hired, whether or not someone is or isn't speaking properly, whether or not they dress properly, if there are set standards for all butlers in behavior and in dress, if so who decides those standards and how, or contemplating endlessly over why some people are not afraid to speak candidly or act on things when is action is required, without realizing that it’s actually himself with the problem (hint, it IS him). And yes, there are plenty of memories about things that are just as pointless, and each has it’s own tired, boring ranting about details only someone as dull as our butler could narrate. But wait, did I mention the exciting adventure forced by his employer? That’s right, the main character stresses over change when ordered to drive around to other areas in his immediate area of the country, which only takes four days. Wonder what his opinions are on the rooms he’ll be staying in? Don’t worry, you’ll find out in the exciting chapters to follow!
Finally the guy climbs a hill and sits on a bench and describes the view, and I found myself proud of him for this because he actually DID something, instead of just pondering about the possibility. A recurring theme throughout the story is that the butler doesn't understand banter. Which is to say, when anyone speaks to him in a joking manner he doesn't know how to react. Yes, the author made the main character that dull on purpose, and then we have to hear that boring character’s reflective dialog for twelve uneventful chapters. You would think the butler’s employer, who forces his banter on others such as the main character, would be entertaining. But alas, he makes an exit midway in the first chapter. At the end, as our uninteresting butler sits on the bench on the hill, we come to understand what the title Remains of the Day is referring to. That is, his future. As he contemplates this, the only change he makes is that perhaps he’ll try to master the art of banter (you know, what the rest of the world understood at age 5). Considering that his is the most boring personality imaginable with no courage to ever take risks or make changes, I think I’ll pass on hearing what remains for him.
Love well written and well narrated books of any type.
Have not read the print book but the audiobook is wonderful.
I am unable to think of a good comparison,
The protagonist. He was a real person warts and all and best of all he was human. I identified with all of his actions.
The father of the protagonist. He was such a proud but hidebound man. There were scenes involving him that brought me to tears.
I have listened to this several times and it never ages. Simon Prebble's narration was superb, as always,
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