Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Remains of the Day

Book Review

I just finished "The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro.   It only took me about a week to read this at my leisure on the sofa.  It read rather slowly, since this is the story of a gentleman's butler, with the butler as the narrator.  The prose is appropriate, albeit a bit cumbersome.  But I can just see Mr. Stevens, stiff necked, straight backed, with a very nasal British accent.

No, I haven't seen the movie, but I am planning to do so soon.  I prefer to read the book first, whenever possible.  I guess most people do.

When I started reading this, I really didn't know what to expect.  My knowledge of the story was based on a 15-year-old movie trailer, seen on network TV fifteen years ago.  Basically, I just knew it was about a butler, mostly likely British.  That's it.  I discovered that the story is framed in a six day "motoring" journey through the English countryside.  Within that, most of the action is presented as memories recalled.  I'm not a particular fan of this method of sharing 90% of the story with the reader.  Ishiguro also uses this method in his newer book, "Never Let Me Go", which I read first.  I'm even less a fan now of the memories telling the story.

It was clear throughout "Remains" that the butler's noble employer is destined for a political and personal fall from grace.  I sometimes like such foreshadowing, but Ishiguro seems to do an excessive amount of this in "Remains".  Half as much would have been fine, and I would have still seen it coming.

There were only a few primary characters, which I like when they are fully developed.  The head housekeeper provides an interesting counterpoint to the noble employer.  Our butler is always serving his Lord and acquiescing, but not so with the housekeeper.  She seems to be odds with our butler, nearly always bickering with him.  But I couldn't quite tell if she might have been or become a love interest for him.  I liked not knowing.  I kept guessing, right up to the end.  This was well played.

Both the Lord and the housekeeper re-enforce the final, overarching theme of the book, namely that we should accept and come to terms with how our life plays out (good or bad).  This didn't become apparent to me until the end.  They came at the same conclusion from different directions.  One came from making choices without knowledge of the underlying connections and repercussions, which broke the Lord.  The other was one of knowingly making choices and accepting them and resolving to not let circumstances break our housekeeper.  Further strengthening this theme is our butler's extensive examination of his own thoughts on his profession.  His conduct.  His behavior.  His life.

All considered, I enjoyed this book.  I didn't know what to expect and I was gently rewarded.  Have you read "Remains"?  If so, tell me what you think in the comments.

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