The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
“It seems increasingly likely that I will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days”.
Stevens, a butler at Darlington Hall is going on a trip to see one of his former colleagues Ms Kenton (now Mrs Benn). What he doesn’t expect is that it’ll also take him through his most painful and triumphant memories. The reader is invited to come with him on this, both physical and mental journey.
Stevens, the narrator and main character, is an honourable man who values dignity more than anything in the world; ‘The great butlers are great by virtue of their ability to inhabit their professional role and inhabit it to the utmost […]’ He lives his life according to his sense of what dignity is but in the process loses the himself, which he doesn’t seem to be able to understand. At certain moments in the book, Stevens make me so incredibly angry and I want to shake him, make him understand that he must think for himself, make him realise that no human being is perfect and that it is impossible to live up to the standards he set up for himself without losing his identity, or what it is to be human and not an empty shell.
Even though he come across as completely brainwashed by society and his own ideas about dignity, there is sadness about him. I can’t help but to feel for him. He is so lonely, focused at his work and how to be a great butler that life passes him by. On the other hand, the way society worked during the time of Stevens (ca 1930-1950, the upstairs-downstairs), no wonder he thinks and behaves the way he does.
Books set during this time period has mostly been centred around people of higher class, the lords and ladies of great big mansions, but instead of continuing this tradition, Ishiguro tells a story from a servant’s point of view. He criticises the way society worked and how ‘lower class’ people were affected by it. As Stevens says; ‘All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes’.
It’s sad how some can become their work, and that’s the only thing they are. I liked Stevens’ story because it made me think about how easily we can lose ourselves and that we are controlled by norms and unwritten rules. However, it was a slow read and sometimes very long.
If you like or are interested in books about society, injustice or class differences you should definitely read this book.
If you had read it, what are your take on it? How did you like it?