The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A compelling page turner which also deservedly won the Booker Prize. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: March 2005
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571225385

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It's 1956 and Stevens is considering a motoring trip to the West Country. He's the butler at Darlington Hall, now owned by Mr Farraday who bought the property after Lord Darlington's death some three years ago. Stevens would not indulge himself by taking the trip for personal reasons but he's recently had a letter from Mrs Benn who, in the days when she was Miss Kenton was the housekeeper at Darlington Hall. There's a hint in the letter that Mrs Benn is unhappy and that her marriage is over and Stevens wonders if he might be able to solve his staffing problems by bringing her back as housekeeper.

Stevens tells us of his trip to the West Country and interspersed with this are his recollections of his service with Lord Darlington (and our dawning realisation that in the years prior to the Second World War he was a Nazi sympathiser) and his relationship with Miss Kenton. It's obvious to all that Miss Kenton was (and probably still is) in love with Stevens and that he had similar feelings for her – but he was unable to put professional dignity to one side and admit the feelings even to himself.

'Dignity' is a recurring theme throughout the book as Stevens ponders his thoughts that it's dignity which makes a great butler, although he struggles on several occasions to explain exactly what it means to him. It is, though, where his identity rests and it serves him instead of emotion. His father (who was also serving at Darlington Hall at the time) died during a political meeting at Darlington Hall, but Stevens continued to serve rather than to mourn.

This might sound very dry. Stevens himself is dry, but this book is a compelling page turner with its perfect evocation of life in service in the nineteen thirties when a butler commanded a grand staff and the nineteen fifties when much of this great house (and many others) was dust-sheeted because it was impossible to get people to work there. There's a perfect picture of society and the changes which the war had brought – and a poignant love story which is all the more heart-breaking for the fact that there's barely any physical contact between Stevens and Miss Kenton.

The Remains of the Day deservedly won the Booker Prize in 1989 and has the distinction of being a book which is technically brilliant and compellingly readable by the man in the bookshop. If this type of book appeals to you then you might like to try Disgrace by J M Coetzee and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle.

Booklists.jpg The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is in the Booker Prize Winners.

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