The Remains of The Day, a Review

The Remains of the Day: A Review

By Mia Manning

The Remains of the Day, written by the Nobel-Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro, is a novel, set in the late 1950’s, that centers around a British butler named Stevens. Stevens, while embarking on his first road-trip, reminisces his past employers, his father’s life, and his companionship with a past colleague named Miss Kenton. On this journey, he discovers many things about himself, such as his true feelings towards others and meanings behind past events. The time period of the novel is an important factor of the story; World War II has recently ended, and Stevens’ life as an ‘upper-class’ butler is now changing vastly. Because of the implications the British empire faced after World War II, Stevens is no longer employed under an English Lord but rather a wealthy American man. In this novel, Ishiguro covers not only emotional, human topics, such as grief and love, but also shows how history changed the lives of so many, making it a good read for anyone interested in historical fiction. Despite making important points throughout, the novel not only lets excitement build in ultimately disappointing situations , it also requires a fair bit of analysis for comprehension. Additionally, the wording and characterization that Ishiguro uses can be daunting for some readers.

Ishiguro slyly inserts his beliefs about classism throughout the novel, giving  the novel to have a much deeper meaning than one that could be interpreted at surface level. This is impressively done, however the novel requires personal analysis so they may understand his emotions towards the class system. Ishiguro in his novel sheds light on the negative aspects of class separation that many household servants encounter daily. This can be found in the way that Stevens, and various other characters, do not have much money that can be saved for their retirement or time off. In fact, the road trip Stevens is on during this story, was funded by his boss; Stevens claims that he cannot afford a more ‘casual’ outfit for such a venture. This can easily be compared to the struggle that many working-class people face now when they try to make a adequate living wage. Considering the novel was written in 1989, written about the 1950’s and prior, and still manages to apply to today’s world, is quite an impressive achievement. This book is perhaps best suited for one who enjoys analyzing and reading between the lines for true meaning.

The novel itself starts with long-winded, wordy sentences that can be intimidating, but, while this remains the case for the first 30-40 pages or so, it soon after becomes much easier to read and thus enjoy. The wording is what one would expect from a butler and the reader can gain a sense of Stevens sophistication from the way in which he speaks and describes his journey and past. Despite this, the novel still remains quite humorous in some places because of Ishiguro’s use of dramatic irony: many anecdotes that Stevens describes are merely amusing to the reader as he is oblivious to the true meaning of these interactions until later on in the novel. The reader would also have to be at least somewhat acquainted with British slang to appreciate the humor and Stevens’ character. As long as the reader does not mind sticking to reading a novel despite its slow start, the book is quite enjoyable with occasional humor and unique language.

Stevens, as the novel’s narrator, is a difficult character to relate to because he has trouble understanding and expressing emotion. While this is one of the drawbacks of the novel Ishiguro constructs his character in this way for a reason.  As the novel goes on, he questions what being a “good butler” (pg. 32) is all about, and leads to talking about “dignity’” (pg. 33), which he believes lies in having true control over one’s emotions at all times. This belief has made Steven a wonderful servant, however, it also made him lose his sense of self. His control of emotions soon becomes lack of emotions, or rather, emotional suppression. Once the reader understands this, they sympathize with Stevens as he goes through life changing events, such as the death of his father, which he does not allow himself to grieve over, despite knowing that he does indeed feel something negative. This emotional suppression is important because it allows Stevens to experience growth throughout the novel, however, despite this, the reader could be disappointed by Stevens’ inability to acknowledge his emotions for the majority of the novel. Ishiguro compensates for this though by giving the scenes emotional depth through description and imagery. Nonetheless, if one is looking for a deeply emotional main character, or perhaps a novel with multiple characters perspectives this is not the novel for them.

Ishiguro also builds excitement for the reader where they may think he should not have. It is made known that Stevens has romantic feelings for Miss Kenton relatively soon in the novel because of the way in which he is entranced by her and how frequently he refers back to their previous interactions. In fact, the road trip that Stevens embarks on is taken to see her at her new residence. The reader most likely is rooting for a romance between these characters, but it never happens, which is very disappointing. Although Ishiguro lets there be a clear, important meaning behind this turn of events, the reader cannot help be feel upset that these characters never get their happy ending. This is unique and heart-breaking, as most novels do have a very predictable happy ending. This could appeal to those looking for something that breaks the typical mold, but a reader could also consider the book a waste of time if they are looking for something with such an ending. However, this sad ending has a purpose: to highlight how one cannot turn back the clock, and should enjoy their life for what it is, even if that is not all it is expected to be. Thus, Ishiguro magnificently puts important meaning into something that is, on the surface, unpleasant.

All together a nice, unique, novel, The Remains of The Day highlights many different issues, both to do with classism and not. It is a book best suited for one who does not mind taking the time to analyze both events and characters. It is truly quite enjoyable, despite the perhaps anti-climatic, and definitely heartbreaking, ending. This novel makes one think about how to enjoy their life to the fullest and forgive themselves for their mistakes. While not the book to read if someone is wanting a light hearted, or happy novel, The Remains of The Day is still beautiful and deeply filled with literary merit.