Friday, September 18, 2015

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day starts in the 1950s. It is the story of Stevens, a butler on an English estate owned by a rich American named Mr. Farraday. Stevens' position has become a parody of what it used to be. The staff of the estate is down to four people whose main purpose seems to be allowing their employer to show off. But that said, Farraday is a decent person. When he feels Stevens has been under too much pressure, he suggests that his butler borrow his car and take an extended tour of the countryside. Stevens decides to accept this offer because he wants to visit and talk to a former member of the estates' staff, Miss Kenton. He's hoping to convince her to return.

Stevens spends much of the time on his road trip, reminiscing about his past, mostly about the years leading up to World War II. During that time the estate was owned by Lord Darlington, a member of the English nobility who sympathized with the Germans because he believed that the Treaty of Versailles was too brutal. This belief allowed Darlington to be manipulated by the Nazis.

But the story belongs to Stevens, not Darlington. He is a butler who is the son of a butler, so his role is deeply ingrained. Stevens believes that a good butler subjugates his own opinions to his lord's opinions. Whenever he was asked to do something, he did it. It wasn't so much that he would do things he didn't believe in. Rather, he switched his beliefs to go along with whatever was requested. He becomes a master at having no opinions at all.

Stevens also becomes a master at avoiding answers to questions which may force him to express an opinion. This affects his relationships with people he encounters during his road trip and with Miss Kenton. This damaged, personal side of Stevens is what makes his character so fascinating.

The Remains of the Day is a wonderful character study and an excellent glimpse into a period of English history.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions

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