"But then, I suppose, when with the benefit of hindsight one begins to search one's past for such 'turning points', one is apt to start seeing them everywhere."
I've had The Remains of the Day for the longest time for no good reason. I read Never Let Me Go when I was ooh, 17, because at college the other English class got to read it and I didn't think that was fair and, well, I wanted to read it too! So, I did, and it was awesome (I need to re-read it actually, but probably not see the film because bluergh Keira Knightley) and I bought The Remains of the Day and When We Were Orphans on the back of it. And... both remained unread for 6 years! The moral of this story? I'm a moron.
So, The Remains of the Day was added to my TBR Pile Challenge list, and last week I read it. Obviously. Hence this post. And actually, it was kind of awesome in a sort of dreamy, yearning, drowsy summery read kind of way. At the very beginning I was a little bit dubious as to what on earth I was reading, but as the story went on I was delighted with it because, it makes you work for what you get out of it. And I don't mean that you have to sweat over it or anything, because it's not at all difficult to read, but there's a certain amount of reading between the lines that needs to be done with The Remains of the Day so that you can fully appreciate it.
Intrigued? I know I am! Allow me to be slightly more... descriptive about plot and shit like that. So, the book's written through a first person narrator (NOT my favourite style of book, but I went with it) who is the butler of a big house that's seen better days, and the story follows his little holiday to the seaside, during which he reminisces about days gone by, and also about what it means to be a good butler. And, I know exactly how that sounds. It sounds kind of pretentious and crap, and like the kind of book that's perfect for the people who decide what wins the Booker Prize (which it did) but is not so much fun for the regular reader.
Only, it kind of is. Because Stevens, the butler, is such an intriguing and layered character, at times infuriating, but mostly just someone to feel kind of sorry for. I mean, he's got no discernable sense of humour, and he's an absolute stickler for service (he carried on working seconds after being told his father had died, and sent the doctor seeing to him to this rich man whose feet hurt) but all of that information's just completely surface. What he really thinks and feels and believes about things can only be guessed at, and apart from a few crucial points, is barely even hinted at in the book. It's tempting to think of Stevens just as some kind of robot-butler, devoid of emotions or thoughts of his own, but he makes it clear that, it is crucial to him to be professional at all times, except when he's alone with his thoughts. Thoughts that are, maddeningly, for the most part, out of the reach of the reader.
So this narration creates a constant intrigue for the reader which continues even after you've finished reading, because you're still thinking 'so how did he feel about the Jewish thing?' (oh yeah, there's a whole Nazi thing that went on in the past... that's all interesting because it reveals Stevens' tolerance for literally any views held by his employer) and 'but... didn't he love his father?' and all kinds of other things like that that the book hints at beautifully but never quite clears up for you. This is, of course, entirely in keeping with Stevens' character, and honestly, I wouldn't have this book any other way. It's strange how, reading between the lines can sometimes be even better than reading what's there.
Chief among the things you're unsure about Stevens is the way he feels about Miss Kenton, former housekeeper of his butlering residence and possible object of his desire. And I say possible because there is almost nothing to go on in regards to his feelings for her- he seems, at times, to have been incapable of understanding basic human emotions when talking to her, and yet his constant re-reading of her letter (essentially, we are led to believe, the main reason for his taking the trip in the present day narration) and the number of times he mentions her whilst also adding that nothing untoward happened between them just led me to believe he was desperately in love with her, whether he knew it or not. The line between his knowing it and not saying, and just not knowing is extremely blurred in the book, and you really have to choose which side of it you fall on. Or not- it's beautiful either way.
But- I don't mean to paint this as merely a romantic narrative, because it's not. It's about memory and it's reliability, about politics and ideals, about what it means to give your life entirely to service and to ignore your own urges, and what to do when you come to realise what that means about the rest of your life. It also happens to be beautifully written and have near-perfect characterisation, and, for once, seems like a perfectly deserving book for a big literary prize. Not at all pretentious and a tiny bit heartbreaking- what more could you want from a book?
I read this a couple of months ago and I really liked it. It was such an interesting book, mostly because of how unreliable Stevens was as a narrator which had me constantly trying to guess his real thoughts and feelings. He irritated me a lot but ultimately I was just sad for him, and at the end of the book, a little heartbroken.ReplyDelete
That literally sums up my experience of the book in a neat little comment, so thanks for that! Might just skip the review next time and write a few sentences like that! :)Delete
I love the idea of the TBR challenge. My TBR is waaaay too long.ReplyDelete
Have you seen the movie? It is heartbreaking. I think they make it clear that the butler really wants a life of his own - but he's too shy to do it, and clings to "being professional" too much.
The TBR challenge is awesome- it really like MAKES me read stuff that I already have- I'm doing another challenge that's similar too cause I really need to get rid of some books!Delete
I haven't seen the movie, but I'd definitely be interested in seeing like one person's interpretation of it- I feel like practically every reader could make a movie from it, and each one would be slightly different because of how much the reader is invited into this book.
WHY DO WE DIFFER SO MUCH ON BOOKSReplyDelete
Ok, it's not so much the book in this case, but I saw the movie and it was boring as SHIT and the ending pissed me off. HOW could you like what happens (or doesn't happen) with him and Miss Kenton? How??? AGHH.
Well, I didn't LIKE that because *weep* lost opportunities and wasted lives etc, but I still thought the book was really good and like intriguing and made me kind of sad and kind of irritated and stuff!Delete
I can imagine the movie being a bit... slow though. Lots of facial expressions and longing gazes and stuff?
The whole Nazi plot, my friends and I basically talked over. So boring. So very boring.Delete
Yeah... I didn't really care about the Nazi thing at all, *except* for what it revealed about Stevens' character, as in, he will literally do anything his boss says, which is freaky and weird and why he'll never be properly happy (except that he will because he LOVES butlering). So yeah. THE BOOK IS STILL GOOD READ IT!Delete
p.s. do you just not like authors with Japanese names? Hmm? HMMMM?Delete
'bluergh Keira Knightley' - haha! Exactly.ReplyDelete
Her success and appeal mystify me.
I can't even... Just, ugh. Although she was alright in Bend it Like Beckham, and that's IT.Delete
I actually had to go look up if I'd read this book on Goodreads, because it seemed like I had, but maybe I was just remembering the movie, which I think I saw something like a decade ago. Turns out I haven't read it. I've actually only read two of Ishiguro's books. The first was back in 2002 - The Unconsoled - which I hated with a passion. It took me years to give Ishiguro another chance, and I did so with Never Let Me Go. At first I was just meh about the book, but over the next six months, I kept thinking about it over and over, and it became one of those books that STUCK. And later became one of my favorites. It stayed that was until I saw the movie. I actually liked the movie mostly, but for some reason, seeing the movie stopped all the random moments where the book would just pop in my mind, and so it began to fade. Which is really sad, honestly. I should reread it, and let it take dominance over the movie again. It was like the movie just sort of...ended the book for me? Too much closure, or something.ReplyDelete
And of course, this comment has nothing to do with the book you're reviewing, but...yeah.
Hehehehe, that's alright! I did like Never Let Me Go but I can barely remember it (well, I can remember bits but like not the whole thing) but it's got a similar reading feeel as this one. Can't watch the movie though, because, as I say, Keira Knightley.Delete
No, I'm the moron...I've had this book on my TBR for a LONG time and never even realized that the author was this one that everyone seems to be talking about. Oy.ReplyDelete
Hehehe, ohhhh dear! Well, everyone was talking about him last year anyway, not so much right now...Delete
This book is awesome though, I recommend moving it up on your TBR list :)
I've wanted to read this one since reading Never Let Me Go without ever knowing what it was about. So thank you for clearing that up for me! Also I giggled at Robot Butler so when/if I do eventually read this, I'm going to be picturing a robot butler the whole time.ReplyDelete
YESSSSSSSSSS! That will actually be amazing. He does have glimpses of humanity though, so watch out that they don't distract you...Delete
I remember liking Remains of the Day. I recall the ending being particularly good. Doesn't he have a conversation with a stranger near a pier into the ocean or something? I remember that conversation crystallized the whole mood of the book. I thought the film was kind of boring though. Eep.ReplyDelete
As for Never Let Me Go, that one really grew on me after I'd finished reading it. I kept thinking about it. The film adaptation was pretty good. I'm a fan of Carey Mulligan and I was impressed by Andrew Garfield. I don't mind and even like Keira Knightley when she's cast well. She was fine in this. I don't of course say that to try and convince you that you would like the film. You seem pretty set. :)
I loved this book. Couldn't decide whether to read it or not at first b/c movie = boredom fest central, but then I read Never Let Me Go and liked it, so I gave this one a shot too. I really liked Stevens' voice, though at points I did feel like shouting at him (Nazis, Stevens? Really, Nazis?). I think what you said about the ambiguity in the love story and it being beautiful either way was spot-on.ReplyDelete
I have been meaning to read this book for a long time. Now that I have read your review I am going to bump it up on my TBR list!ReplyDelete
It's beautiful, isn't it? You're right that it's not a love story but the trailers for the film looked like it concentrates on the love angle, which is a shame.ReplyDelete