As I read the first few chapters of this book, my thought process was as follows…
Wow, Ishiguro writes elegantly.
Hm, this narrator is starting to sound a tad long-winded and fussy.
Oh–he’s an English butler. That makes more sense.
Wait a second. Is this book about…being a butler? And what sort of qualities make a good butler? Am I really reading pages and pages of this?
Why can’t I put this book down?
And that, good ladies and gentlemen, is the magic of Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing. The wonderful thing he does is make you forget there is an author. He assumes the voice of the main character so seamlessly and unobtrusively. In Never Let Me Go, he was a sheltered, simple-minded, orphanage-raised girl. In Remains of the Day, he is a middle-aged British butler who has spent his entire life catering to the needs of the elite class.
The succinct blurb is as follows: “In the summer of 1956, Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, embarks on a leisurely holiday that will take him deep into the countryside and into his past.”
The novel only spans about a week; most of the time we share in Stevens’ memories. He reflects on the gentlemen he has served, the political affairs to which he has inadvertently been privy, his father, and Miss Kenton, the housekeeper he has not seen for many years. Though Ishiguro never states it explicitly, Stevens is desperately searching for meaning in the way he has spent his life. The most poignant scene of the book occurs when Stevens is on duty whilst his father is dying in an upstairs bedroom. Ishiguro’s craft is beautiful because he is always implicit, never overt, never crass in his ideas and in his construction of character. Though Stevens does one thing and says another to justify it, through pattern and deduction we are able to read his person and the subtle sadness of his life, and the story presses its poignancy gently on our minds.
Ishiguro’s treatment of relationship, humour, dialogue and ageing is always elegant. The book at some points will make you bark with laughter at the absurdity of manners, and at other times will overwhelm you with a nebulous sense of regret.