Kressel Housman's Reviews > The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Jan 04, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, fiction
Read in January, 2009

When I was in college learning about Sartre's existentialism, the example to illustrate the plight of modern man was a waiter. He dresses in uniform and performs his duties for the people he is serving without relating to them in any personal sort of way. He's playing a role, treating himself like an object and not as a human being with independent thoughts and feelings. This book is that example in novelized form, except that the main character is an old-style English butler, not a waiter. And it's one of the most brilliant character studies I have ever read.

The genius of the novel is in the telling, particularly in the uses of understatement and implication. In the very beginning, Stevens (the protagonist) tells us that it's bad form for an English servant to show much of his personal character. Through the rest of the novel, he takes it to an absolutely absurd extreme. Small indications of this are that we are never told Stevens' first name and that he often uses the impersonal "one finds oneself" when most people would just say, "I feel." Bigger revelations of character come through the plot, but this is a spoiler-free review. I'll just say that by the end of the book, when you've really come to like Stevens in spite of all his peculiarities, the author goes "universal" on you. You'll probably see a bit of yourself in Stevens. I certainly did.

If you like an action-packed plot, this is not the book for you. The political backdrop of pre-WW2 gives the book its drama, but there are no great battles, adventures, or narrow escapes. Likewise, the love interest is so understated, I wonder if I would have picked up on it if I hadn't been tipped off in advance. So read this only if you appreciate subtlety. If you do, you're in for something unique. It's no wonder this book has become a 20th century classic.
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Angelina I love the point you raised about revealing personal character! I hadn't noticed that before in the novel, and I think it adds another profound dimension to the he disassociates himself from many things, including himself, while still reflecting so much on them.

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