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Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

19 Nov

I always feel good when I get to do a book review. It means I’m getting closer and closer to my goal of 70 books in 2013. I do advise against a goal this high, however. It means I’m stressing about time to read and not enjoying the books as much. I plan to do 36 next year, averaging three per month.

I added The Remains of the Day to my list after I finished Ishiguro’s other book, Never Let Me Go. I much prefer the latter and if you’re thinking of reading one of Ishiguro’s books, I would say Never Let Me Go is the way to go. More on that later.

Book Cover from

Book Cover from

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The story follows Mr. Stevens, the butler to Darlington Hall, on a vacation across England to meet the old housekeeper of the Hall, Miss Kenton. His diary during these six days of travel involves a great deal of reflection on his life serving Lord Darlington and the events he attended to during that time.

Lord Darlington was a great English lord leading up to World War II. He would frequently hold conferences for dignitaries and politicians in his home to help pacify the rough consequences of the Treaty of Versailles.

I’ll admit that I was not a fan of this book. I listened to the audiobook and I was three disks (out of seven) into it before I realized what was going on. Stevens feels he is having a great impact on the course of history through his running the house during Lord Darlington’s meetings. Because they seem to go well and Lord Darlington is usually pleased with the result, Stevens is pleased with his own work. What Stevens doesn’t know is that Lord Darlington is sympathetic to the German Nazis and feels they were given a bad deal with the treaty. He’s trying to find more sympathy for them in England and influence those high in power (including the Prime Minister) to consider renegotiating the treaty. I didn’t realize that Stevens was a biased and slightly unreliable narrator.

While this technique was masterfully executed, I was bored with the book until I figured that out. I felt like I was reading the diary of an old English gentleman (again, it was well done) and that there was no theme or storyline to these ramblings except to tell about his life and the things he had done and seen. It was nothing near captivating for me and I was frankly upset with all the hype around this book.

There are two things I think Ishiguro is trying to say. One is about loyalty and the loyalty that Stevens showed to Lord Darlington is steadfast but perhaps a little overzealous. No matter what his Lord asked of him, Stevens was happy to comply, even when it was firing two chambermaids only because they were Jewish. When Stevens’ father was dying in a room of the house, he was helping with an important dinner. I would say that Stevens had his priorities out-of-order in the worst way. While loyalty is commendable, it should not come at the price of one’s own wellbeing and morals.

The other point that Ishiguro makes is about history and how it frames heroes and villains. At the time of the action, no one knew what the Nazis were doing to Jews in concentration camps. It was pretty obvious that the Treaty of Versailles was causing economic problems in Germany and Lord Darlington took it upon himself to help remedy these issues. At the time, he could be seen as a good Samaritan. However, with the foresight of the Holocaust, no one could call Darlington a hero and humanitarian for what he tried to do for the Germans. History decides who will be remembered.

One of the things that I was reminded of while reading this book was Elie Wiesel’s work to bring the plight of Holocaust victims to light after the atrocities commited by the Nazis were in the dark for so long. I wrote about this in my book review of Night. It was people like Lord Darlington who needed to hear Wiesel’s message.

Writer’s Takeaways: I read in a review and I will agree that this is one of the best examples of first person narration I’ve read in a long time. Some books can feel burdensome when narrated in first person, but Ishiguro’s book read smoothly. I’m blown away at his talent.

I also liked the bias the narrator presented and how this skewed information for the reader. It took a while for me to figure this out, but I enjoyed the way Ishiguro obscured facts through Stevens’ eyes until the end.

Two out of Five stars.

Until next time, Reader, write on.