Juushika's Reviews > The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
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Apr 23, 2008

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In 1956, an aged traditional English butler near the end of his career goes on a five day road trip at the suggestion of his new American employer. As Mr. Stevens drives across the country to visit an old female college, he reflects back on his thirty years of service at Darlington Hall, taking comfort in the fact that he has conducted himself with dignity and served, in Lord Darlington, a great gentleman—but lurking within his reflections are growing doubts about Lord Darlington's true nature. The Remains of the Day lacks all sense of subtlety, and so its various aspects—the reflections on how Stevens has lived and should have lived his life, the nature of Lord Darlington—fall flat. However well intended, the protagonist is unlikable and the style is heavy handed, and so this book is disappointing and unsuccessful. I do not recommend it.

The character of Stevens is a relic from an older time, and his old fashion manners and beliefs are out of keeping with the current era. More than this, however, Stevens willfully blinds himself to anything outside of what he believes is proper to the role of a butler. He actively and intentionally limits himself to the confines of his social role until he becomes socially awkward, unable to express or even to feel emotion, unable to carry on personal relationships, unable to judge his previous employer, Lord Darlington. And though the character does, in the very last pages of the book, get an inkling clue about the harm caused by his life long self-fettering, this character growth is too little and too late. The book's protagonist and narrator is a character too unlikable for the reader to embrace. Granted, many of the book's more lively characters are pitiful or humorous, but Stevens is no better. He is awkward to read about, and left this reader feeling unpleasantly discomforted.

The various tropes by which Ishiguro reveals Stevens's intentional self-limitations and the true nature of Lord Darlington are intended to be skillful and sly, but are instead unrealistic. Stevens will start into a recollection to make one point, only to have the reader—through an access of dramatic irony—take away a completely different point; the coherent series of events emerges too easily from Stevens's supposedly unrelated recollections. Even the writing style, in the form of a diary written in the various cities were Stevens's stops on his driving tour, is contrived: the entries are overlong, the dialog is too precisely worded.

In a way, Ishiguro has noble goals: by creating a character that refuses to engage in independent personal thought and feeling, he in fact emphasizes the importance of each. But, despite all attempts, The Remains of the Day lacks subtlety, and so fails to impact the reader. Stevens's limitations are exaggerated, he is not a sympathetic character but rather an unlikable one, and the "revelations" of Stevens's personal life and Lord Darlington's nature are both heavy handed and predictable from a long ways off. I do not dislike this book as much as it may sound—I think the premise is promising and the message is true, and the very readable narrative voice has a convincing old world sound to it. However, I cannot recommend the novel. It does not live up to its potential, it is heavy-handed where it needs to be subtle, and ultimately reading it felt like a waste of time. Stevens remains too self-limited to see the error of these limitations, and the reader is provided with no other admirable characters. In the end, the novel offers nothing more than the exaggerated retrospective of one man's attempt—and failure—to live a life of dignity.
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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben This is an exceedingly well-written review, but accusing Ishiguro of unsubtle writing is among the most insane things I've ever heard.

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