I can’t decide if I love Kazuo Ishiguro or not. Never Let Me Go had me captivated through its final pages and thinking about it beyond that, but I couldn’t even get through The Buried Giant. I just finished The Remains of the Day and I’m feeling somewhere in between about it. Granted, I read it right after finishing my favorite book of the year, which put it at a disadvantage. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it; I just can’t quite pinpoint why.
I am a sucker for a novel about the British aristocracy (see Snobs, The Pursuit of Love, and Belgravia for reference—and I’ve noted my affinity for Sense & Sensibility on the blog as well), and in this respect, Ishiguro certainly delivers. The Remains of the Day follows a Stevens, a butler at Darlington Hall from the 1920s through the 1950s. After Lord Darlington, his original master, dies, the house, which has belonged to Darlington’s for two centuries, falls into the hands of an American by the name of Mr. Farraday. Stevens is not at all accustomed to being treated in the friendly and casual manner that Mr. Farraday takes up with him, and is particularly lost when it comes to “bantering,” something that troubles him throughout the entire book. Given his inability to connect with Mr. Farraday, it is no surprise that when his boss suggests he take a few days off to “get to know the countryside,” he does not take it seriously. However, after Stevens receives a letter from a former Darlington housekeeper, Miss Kenton, which he interprets as rife with subtle suggestions that she would like to work at Darlington again. Now, with an express purpose for his travels, Stevens feels comfortable embarking.
Stevens’ journey in takes him through England’s bucolic countryside, and serves to reaffirm his love for country and reflect on his decades working under a “great man.” However, as Stevens’ drive progresses and he continues to reminisce, it becomes clear to the reader that Lord Darlington was not the “great man” our narrator makes him out to be. In fact, [somewhat of a spoiler alert] it seems he played a large part in not only opposing World War II but also directly consorting with the Nazis and Hitler himself. Stevens continues to rationalize his belief in Lord Darlington’s dignified legacy, but struggles as he continues to recount the events that occurred within Darlington’s halls. The story is a subtle yet powerful study on class and politics in England that could be best described as a “slow-moving quick read.” If you haven’t read Never Let Me Go, do so first, and then let me know which you prefer.