The Remains of the Day
I suppose there is no need to belabor the fact that Kazuo Ishiguro is a master, but I can’t help it. The man is an absolute genius.
His Never Let Me Go is still one of my favorite books — I recommend it to anyone who listens (or anything that moves, actually) — and I remember crying buckets while reading it. I haven’t seen the film. I suppose with such beautiful prose I simply cannot be bothered with someone else’s interpretation of it.
Interestingly, it took much longer for me to get into The Remains of the Day. I suppose it just didn’t click as quickly as Never did with me. I mean, why would I be interested in an aging English butler?
But that’s the beauty of books, isn’t it? You read and you find yourself immersed in someone else’s life, someone else’s point of view, even if just for an hour or a two.
And so when I finally did read the novel properly, I tried to kick myself for not doing so earlier. It’s incredible. [Pardon me now, because it’s unlikely I’ll be able to find the proper words to describe its enormous impact on me.]
Ishiguro — in his trademark subdued manner — shows us a man who gladly gave his service, principles, life, and even dignity to another and now wonders whether or not he made the right choice.
Part of him wants to believe that he did; he tries to justify it a few times. Because if he was wrong, and if all of his life was dedicated to serving a man who was not just wrong, but horribly so, what then?
Are the final years of his life to be wasted away in regret?
But the magic of The Remains of the Day is that it doesn’t dump all of these things on the reader. It doesn’t even actually say anything outright. To the end Mr. Stevens is a man of few words, and it is testament to the genius of Ishiguro that the reader understands how powerful the conflict and regret is in the character without the writer having to resort to drama and hysterics.
Dignity, Mr. Stevens analyses throughout the novel. It is arguable that Mr. Stevens made a mistake. His entire life in the service of Lord Darlington; losing Miss Kenton; and realising that his best years are over and all he has left is regret — these should have broken him and left him a bitter shell of a man.
But he has dignity, and even when he has nothing else left he has that at least, because he can face regret with quiet acceptance and the decision to make the most of what days he has left.
I don’t even know why I’m still blabbing. Go and read it. Ishiguro does it better than anyone else.
*Image stolen from Wikipedia