Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship's Reviews > The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Jun 06, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, england, literary-fiction, 4-stars
Read on May 28, 2012

The Remains of the Day is a short book, one that I read in a few hours, but with a lot of substance. It follows the narrator, Mr. Stevens--no first name, as he's not on a first-name basis with anyone--as he takes a trip through the English countryside and ruminates on his career as a butler. The more he talks, the clearer it becomes that he's not as satisfied with his life as he tries to convince himself he is, and that his rationalizations don't quite hold water.

For me this is pretty far toward the "literary" end of the spectrum, and I'm not generally a fan "mid-life crisis"-type books (well, this is more of a "late-in-life crisis" since Stevens is past middle age). So why did I like this one? Several reasons. It's well-written, in a completely convincing voice, and without pretension. Stevens alternates between anecdotes from the past, ruminations on his life and the simple tale of his current trip, all while sounding the way I imagine an actual English butler raised in the early 20th century would talk, without getting bogged down in heavily literary language. And there's no padding here: the book is the length it needs to be, long enough to tell the story but short enough that individual incidents are still meaningful. It's very understated, and makes the reader think, but you don't need an English degree to understand it either.

In terms of emotional involvement, I prefer Ishiguro's more recent novel, Never Let Me Go; this is a high-quality book but didn't grab me with the same ferocity. (On the other hand, I didn't have the issues with the premise here that I did with Never Let Me Go.) This novel deals with many of the same themes--most notably, with people unquestioningly handing control of their lives over to others, and losing everything that's meaningful in the process--and it does an excellent job, but often more extreme scenarios are simply more hard-hitting. Nevertheless, this book is likely to have more real-life relevance for readers, particularly if you've ever defined yourself by your work or let yourself focus on little things to the exclusion of what's really important (and come on, who hasn't done that?).

So I would recommend The Remains of the Day to anyone looking for an intelligent but accessible literary novel. It will take up very little of your time and will almost certainly be worth it.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat I liked the hints of the politics in the story, with the Butler still devoted to his old employer whose involvement in pro-fascist politics between the wars had ended his political career but the old Butler still thinks he was the bees knees.

message 2: by Tamara (new) - added it

Tamara I remember really loving this, but then stories about people convincing themselves of something that hurts them is totally my literary kink.

Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship Are all his books like this? It surprises me how much this one is like Never Let Me Go, for a book that's about something completely different.

message 4: by Jan-Maat (new)

Jan-Maat Do you mean in tone and language? Haven't read Never let me go but I felt that artist of the floating world was similiar to remains of the day, maybe this is the narrator, first person narrative both older men looking back on their lives in a disjointed way?

when we were orphans was a bit different (but I didn't like that as much).

Erik That I enjoyed this book as much as I did remains as baffling and mysterious to me as the day I read it many many years ago. I can only imagine trying to pitch this book to a fellow book-reader or, worse yet, to an agent or editor.

*shakes head* Impossible.

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