‘The Remains of The Day’ is a historical drama novel published in 1989 by 2017 Nobel Prize Winner Kazuo Ishiguro which won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989. One of the most highly acclaimed and respected novels of it’s time,as well as, of the post war literature genre. The novel,set around 1956, tells the story of Stevens, the protagonist is also the first person narrator who recollects his professional and personal past life, the moments with Miss Kenton and divulges to the reader as the past forwards leisurely towards the present.
The novel begins in Darlington Hall, presently under the ownership of Mr. Farraday- an American aristocrat- who took over after the death of Lord Darlington. Stevens has been working in the Darlington Hall since the time of Lord Darlington- who is revered with utmost devotion and loyalty by Stevens.
Stevens decides to take a small expedition, for a change, to explore the countryside which prompts him to think about the past.
The Remains of the day is charged with factual accuracy through it’s entire page length which evokes the time period of this novel, but, it is the imagination that gives soul to the novel. It is hard for one to possibly imagine, perhaps unintelligible to comprehend the fact that an author born in Japan would write such a brilliant novel which is primarily centred on the British, and that too, a first person narrative of an English butler.
Memories, occupying a substantial part of the novel- also occupy a substantial part of human life which one tries to recollect in pursuit of meaning or, goes back to it when one is forced to by oneself or one’s own surroundings. The same way, Stevens, recollects his life in momentary flashes packed with moments of contentment and disturbance. The Remains of The Day could have,easily been a courtship story, but the author instead, fills the pages with broken fragments of subconscious memory,layered deep in the character’s mind sensitively touching upon regret, heartache, history, class, culture, personality and above all dignity.
Stevens is one of the best characters I have come across in literature. A British butler who fulfills his duties with utmost sincerity and hard work. Stevens feels a sense of dignity in being a butler and posits the view that butlers, even though largely inconspicuous, have a role to play in the balance of power and politics in the country by rendering their services in the most honest and dignified manner to their owners. The memory of Stevens is reflective of British culture and politics alongside striking character traits which form their society but sensitivity lies in his relationship with the sweet Miss Kenton.
Stevens comments that their generation of butlers is filled with a sense of moral conviction and virtuosity which the generations previously were devoid of. The novel further explores uncharted territories through it’s portrayal the smallest motives and actions of the butlers, their speech and reverence towards the highest class of butlers, and snooty criticisms about the butlers who lack the expertise of being called ‘professionals’ and the skill of bantering.
Miss Kenton occupies a large part of the protagonist’s memories and point of view. She is a brilliantly written character who strikes a deep chord with the readers. Her presence in the novel provides a vulnerability both to the story and the protagonist.
Some qualities are deeply attributed to the first person narrative structure such as the exceptional point of view and unreliability of the narrator which has been one of the points of fascination in famous novels such as The Catcher in The Rye By J.D. Salinger. In this novel, Steven’s voice is clear and perfectly expressive of the detailing of the countryside, Darlington Hall and culture of different places, masterfully composed by Kazuo Ishiguro with perfect choice of words for Stevens’ dialogue. My advice- when you read the novel, go deeper and scrape the hidden meaning masqueraded by simplistic voices, trust me, the human life is hidden in its small page count of 245.
The beauty of this novel, lies in the treatment and execution by Kazuo Ishiguro- he textures his novel with a delicate calmness which is inherently conspicuous in the visual scenery and evocative dialogue. The novel contains no plot twists, in fact there is such a meager amount of plot and it is concerned with memory of the protagonist of his life, and it works beautifully.
The setting is clearly voiced and described by Stevens, the picturesque and beautiful countryside along with the workings of the Darlington Hall- meals, guests, afternoon tea, artistocracy and political meetings with heated debates in rooms filled with smoke emitted from cigars. Every little detail goes a long way and adds something to the novel such as the silver cutlery and the meticulous and frustrating task of devising the staff plans.
On a side note, I once watched an interview- where Kazuo Ishiguro stated that when he writes a novel, he wants to evoke the sensation in the reader which stands similar to hearing melodious music, as evocative and expressive.
Perhaps, Kazuo Ishiguro deserves a standing ovation for the fact that The Remains of The Day smoothly and calmly flows like music evoking different expressions of satirical and ironical humor, pain and regret turn by turn. It is a vehemently singular, narrow and prejudiced view to posit that ‘The Remains of The Day’ is nothing more but a story of a man- a deeply personal tale about a flawed person, while ignoring the fact that it is also a political tale with multi-faceted and dynamic characteristics which define the British and their society- perhaps better than writers born and brought up in United Kingdom. Once again, like I wrote in my review for Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’- the foreign view succeeds in this novel too in terms of excavating the extraordinary in the ordinary and beauty in the simplest.
One of the glorious aspects of this dream-like novel is that there is something for every avid reader in this, whether themes of politics, class, culture,history,ideology,regret and dignity or the profoundly humanistic tale of Stevens and Miss Kenton. The novel addresses the situations that every person can relate to- it is an epitome of what can be accurately called as a ‘universal and cross cultural novel which addresses the depth of the world through the portrayal of one country and the fact that all of us are bound by the same tragedies and triumphs in different ways’.
‘The Remains of The Day’ is a gift to serious admirers of beautiful literature. A satirical, ironical and humorous novel which proves to be a deeply heart-touching portrait of a man as well as a country.
The Nobel committee states that Kazuo Ishiguro’s novels are of high emotional power.
I strongly agree that ‘The Remains of The Day’ is a novel of high emotional power and poetic beauty.