The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Four stars, read in October 2017.

The Remains of the Day is absolutely masterful. I was constantly impressed by the subtlety, the way the protagonist’s voice is so careful and forthcoming that it didn’t occur to me to question his accuracy, until suddenly the perspective would widen and I’d realize what he’d been leaving out.

Mr. Stevens is the former butler of a great British house, keeping a diary on his way to see someone he hasn’t seen for many years. Frequently within his present-day musings he delves into memories of the time leading up to World War II. We learn, gradually, that the man he worked for—someone our protagonist believes to be a great man who played an important role in history—was in fact involved, but on the wrong side of the war. Partly it’s that Mr. Stevens is always talking about something else when these memories arise, so the focus is elsewhere and we have to piece things together on our own. But at the same time, it was interesting to notice my reactions to the new information, how at first I’d assume that there must be more to the story before having to accept that it actually was what I thought it was. When someone is presented to you first as a sympathetic character, it’s hard to allow new information to change your perception; you try for a long time to fit the evidence into the shape you’d already assumed the story would take, before you realize it’s your idea of the shape that was wrong.

Mr. Stevens thinks deeply about his role in society, examining significant changes to the British class system that occurred throughout the twentieth century through the lens of his own personal history. With beautiful writing and plenty of gently amusing moments, this book is a thoughtful exploration of morality, dignity, and democracy, tucked into the quiet road-trip musings of a man on his way to see an old friend.

 

Read-alikes: Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
                        Breathing Lessons, by Anne Tyler

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Jan Hicks says:

    I read this after I saw the film. I didn’t enjoy the film because I don’t like Emma Thompson as an actor. I think my dislike of the film coloured my enjoyment of the book. I couldn’t get the film out of my head. Your different perspective on it makes me think I ought to read it again.

    Like

    1. Miri says:

      That would definitely affect the experience! It’d be much more difficult to appreciate a story I’d already seen portrayed by someone I dislike. But forget the book, now I’m curious about Emma Thompson. What don’t you like about her?

      Like

      1. Jan Hicks says:

        I like her very much as herself. She’s funny and passionate and opinionated. Somehow, though, her acting leaves me cold. It’s as though she overthinks emotion in a character instead of just feeling it. She seems very one-note to me, and it’s the clichéd reticent and repressed Brit.

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      2. Miri says:

        Ohhh I see. You know, I can see that. I actually wonder if you’ve just explained it to me. I love her, and I do love several of her movies, but I also often find myself slightly disappointed . . . like she didn’t get to fulfill her potential. I felt that way about her playing Trelawney in Harry Potter, and I think that’s why I’ve been secretly resisting watching Nanny McPhee all this time even though part of me wants to.

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