Ishiguro’s Masterpiece “The Remains of the Day”: So Perfectly Executed, So Touching

In “The Remains of the Day by Kazu Ishiguro“, the loyal butler Stevens struggles with the changes of the times. The Pearl of the Week is Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterful novel from 1989, about the passing of time and English aristocracy.

Almost 20 years before Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1989, he wrote “The Remains of the Day”. The story of the quiet butler Stevens, who has difficulty relating to the changing times, is considered his main work. The book won the Booker Prize, and was described by Peter Beech in The Guardian as a “subtle masterpiece of quiet desperation”.

“Sometimes you come across a text, so perfectly executed, so touching and recognizable about life, that you cannot help but brag about it to those of you who have a free moment,” Beech wrote.

Others have described the book as one of the best of the decade (The Boston Globe), and “brilliant and quietly crushing” (Newsweek).

In 1993, Stevens was immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in the film of the same name, which received eight Oscar nominations.

Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day movie

A Life of Duties

For The Remains of the Day, we meet the aging butler Stevens, who has taken over the role of his father. Like his father, Stevens is set on serving the Lord in the same self-destructive way until he dies. But when an American takes over the estate, Stevens is offered a few days off. Speechless, he accepts the offer and drives off in the direction of Miss Kenton, the old housekeeper who left them so abruptly.

He thinks back on his life as a butler during the car ride. It has not struck him to ask questions about life. His calling has been to polish and administers, silently and smoothly.

Out of the book’s low-key, condensed course of action also emerges a picture of the empire of England. Carried up by class divisions, the exercise of power and good manners steers towards decay and crumbling.

As he approaches Miss Kenton, troublesome thoughts come to mind. Thoughts of loyalty, fidelity, and dignity. Is there anything in these concepts other than what he has always thought? And what about Miss Kenton, should he not reject her cautious approaches once upon a time?

The Time That Passes from Us

Most critics of The Remains of the Day think, that most readers will devour the last half of the book.

The reader sits and wonders when and if Stevens will realize the mistakes he has made. It contributes to a tremendous amount of pressure.

The Remains of the Day book cover

The story of the butler Stevens has been read as a settlement with the English aristocracy. But we can also read it more as a universal story about a human being who has not registered those times have changed.

It is probably something we all risk experiencing as we get older. I do not know of any other writer who manages to penetrate deeper into his heroes and anti-heroes than Ishiguro. He is an unbeatable communicator of being human for better or worse.

Reveals The Abyss

One of the geniuses is how Ishiguro almost imperceptibly twists the narrator’s perspective so that the reader understands a little more than what the butler Stevens himself does. This is a move Ishiguro uses in several of his novels, including last year’s release “Klara And The Sun”.

“Klara And The Sun” was launched simultaneously around the world earlier this spring, as the first book by Ishiguro after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. There is no doubt that Kazuo Ishiguro received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his authorship with great reader appeal through the combination of five keywords: Nagasaki, perspective, dignity, solidarity, and communication.

Even the jury’s reasoning stated that Ishiguro “in his novels about great emotional forces, has revealed the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” He has also executed the abyss perfectly in this “The Remains of the Day”. And we can relate to these emotional forces with Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro, another masterpiece known for his writing style.  

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan in 1954 and came to England at the age of five. Since his debut in 1982, he has published seven novels and a collection of short stories.

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