Friday, August 29, 2014

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Entertainment Value – B+ Readability – A Overall Value – A

When we think of Batman, we see the adventure and potential danger at every turn, as he uses his exuberant wealth to save the day. But in the bravery of Bruce Wayne, we can at times see the man behind the scenes, pulling the strings, humbly serving his duty: Alfred the butler. 

Now bare with me as I compare Alfred with the protagonist of The Remains of the Day. Stevens is the man behind the scenes, orchestrating the affairs of the household so they can run smoothly during the high stress times of diplomats discussing international affairs. There in his place of employment, Darlington Hall, he is utterly invested in becoming a butler of legendary qualities as his father had only told stories about. The story begins with Stevens decision to take a week's trip to Western England as his lordship, Mr. Farraday will be out of the house. Due to Stevens's utmost attention to professionalism, he convinces himself that the trip is not for leisure but rather to meet an old acquaintance: Miss Kenton. Miss Kenton has sent letters to Stevens which have led him to believe that her marriage has become tumultuous, and that she is seeking her old employment at Darlington Hall.

While reading this novel, it becomes impossible to not compare one's own actions with Stevens's fine and precise actions of professionalism. We begin to learn of all that Stevens has given up to become the master butler that he has, and we learn about his father's creation of this image of the butler that has an enigmatic quality that Stevens refers to as "dignity". Through the book, we see through Stevens's retrospection of his time as a butler while Miss Kenton was at the house, and slowly it becomes clear that the butler is largely considered to be part of the house as much as a lamp fixture or love seat is. As Stevens travels through Western England it becomes clear that his human emotions have been stripped in order for efficiency and servilness in action. Perhaps Ishiguro was attempting a social commentary on the classic English butler, the polished man that seems to be the role model for the perfect employee. Perhaps he is saying that, at least at some level, that there is no way to clearly define the upper echelon or the ideal employee for any profession, for it would be taking a human being which is beyond a mere set of statistics and converting their actions into a formulaic life. 

Overall, I would say that if you are one to annotate and dissect texts thoroughly, this book has plenty to sort through. With a constantly clashing symbols such as light and dark, mist and smoke, it takes much critical thinking to see the true use of each of these symbols in the construction of Ishiguro's argument in the text. For those that are looking for an enjoyable read, I would still recommend this book though I would warn that you may become discouraged and quit reading if you do not reach at least page 70. This is due to Stevens's highly authentic and impersonal introspection into his past hiding much of the sensitive details that make the book interesting. When the plot thickens and Stevens reveals more traumatic and joyful events in his past, involving his father and Miss Kenton, the book also becomes a page turner.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting review! I've been wanting to pick this book up for a while ever since I read and reviewed Never Let Me Go, but I just have so many unread books at the moment that I can't justify buying another one! I like your thoughts on the symbolism in the book - there aren't many book reviewers that include that in their reviews...
    Anyway, I enjoyed reading your review and I'll be sure to check out the rest of your blog!
    Rachel @ Dashing Good Books