The Remains of the Day published in 1989 is Kazuo Ishiguro’s third novel and the 1989 Man Booker Prize winner.
“A contemporary classic, The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro’s beautiful and haunting evocation of life between the wars in a Great English House.
In 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper. Ishiguro’s dazzling novel is a sad and humorous love story, a meditation on the condition of modern man, and an elegy for England at a time of acute change.” (GoodReads)
The novel starts out a bit slowly as you meet Darlington Hall’s long time butler, Stevens, and see his current working situation which he describes as being very different from the days he served Lord Darlington. As you join Stevens on his road trip to see Miss Kenton you also join him on a trip back into the past as he recounts his time at Darlington Hall, the events held there, the famous and esteemed people who came to Darlington, and the day to day of a butler at such a highly regarded manor. As he progresses through the past you begin to get a clear idea of just how different things had been for Stevens and how he is himself coming to grips with this new phase in his own life.
Stevens is a very well spoken man and the diction of the book consistently matches this which I enjoyed. I felt it was the most important element of character development in this book as it conveys the real extent of how old school Stevens really is. People describe this book as being part love story but in all honesty I didn’t really feel this way. My understanding of the themes of this book were about a man coming to grips with moving into a new age, learning to be relevant in this new time with new ways of being. Indeed Stevens goes on the journey to see Miss Kenton but it is much more about a man who goes on a journey of introspection to gain perspective on his life and sort through his feelings about where he is in his life now and how he will move forward.
Upon arriving at his final destination before his trip back to Darlington, Stevens decides to take in the sea view one late afternoon sitting on a pier bench waiting for the pier lights to be switched on. Stevens is lost in his own thoughts until a man seated beside him says, “Sea air does you a lot of good.” As they got to talking Stevens learns this man was a footman in the old days and he confides in him about his feelings of the old days being over and his doubts of what was to come. To which the man responds:
“You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. That’s how I look at it. Ask anybody, they’ll all tell you. The evening’s the best part of the day.”
This is Stevens’ ultimate realisation in the face of all his thoughts, good and bad, about the past. It is the past and he must decide what to do for the remains of the day.
“Perhaps, then, there is something to his advice that I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.”
I enjoyed this book because this is a message that will remain relevant for us all no matter the times. It just so happens that this message is especially well illustrated when placed in the context of a time that really is vastly different from the times we live in today. A good read.