“He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?”
I finished Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains Of The Day this morning on the train and left it on the seat beside me hoping that the universe would find another reader for it. I found it in similar circumstances when it turned up a secondhand booksale at work. Written by the Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro and winner of the 1989 Man Booker Prize, I couldn’t resist picking it up.
The Remains Of The Day tells the tale of an English butler called Mr. Stevens as he drives around the countryside on a rare holiday. It soon becomes clear however that Stevens can’t leave his job nor his past behind him as the narrative proves to be less about his journey by car and more about his life journey so far.
As a big fan of Japanese literature, I found the introverted oddball character to be familiar territory but Ishiguro takes this device one step further by somehow simultaneously making his English butler very relatable. Loyal to his profession and ambitious to be the best, Stevens serves his master’s needs without question. Duty and dignity come first and foremost to the point that his own needs and opinions fade away to nothing. This raises important questions for the reader such as who or what do we unquestionably serve? and how far do we take our loyalty and duty beyond common sense or logic?
Set around the time of the Second World War, these ideas and themes are echoed in the context of democracy and how one can and should serve his nation first then humanity second. The Remains of the Day gives a great account of life in one of the big houses when this high society was at its peak and also gives the reader a glimpse into the behind-closed-doors politics of the time.
As the novel reaches its conclusion, Stevens only now considers the true worth of his decades of service and he begins to question what else he has done with his life. This great realisation brings forth a deep sadness that ultimately defines the reader’s experience. It is interesting to see him count up these costs but still convince himself that it was worth it.
Like the very best novels, this is one that will leave you thinking and with much to discuss. Even better, there is a film starring Anthony Hopkins, Nanny McPhee and Superman!