Wednesday, April 07, 2021

First Wednesday Book Review: REMAINS OF THE DAY Kazua Ishiguro

I read this book when it debuted in 1989 and I also saw the wonderful movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson on its release, but I decided to listen to it again on audio. The wonderful Simon Prebble read it and sounded so much like Anthony Hopkins I had to check and recheck. After reading this book in '89 I read NEVER LET ME GO in the early nineties, which is my very favorite of Ishiguro's books and one of my favorite books of all time. His new book KLARA AND THE SUN also sounds wonderful and I may have to buy it right now.

REMAINS OF THE DAY is the story of a butler, one that heads a very large staff for a very prominent English gentleman. He takes his position so seriously that he allows his father to die in an upstairs room alone while he handles an important affair for his employer. Although Stephens seems like a highly intelligent man, he gets most everything wrong in this story. He puts so much faith in his employer that he believes following the lead of Germany in the 20s and 30s is the right step. He fires housemaids because they are Jewish, he allows a possible romance with the housekeeper to go off course. In fact, he often treats her dismissively. And most of all, he doesn't understand that he is not irreplaceable, that he is just a small cog in a wheel that he can never have a hand in turning. The most superficial tasks in running a house become his entire world. And so he misses what he might have had and instead supports a Nazi supporter for the duration. He has constructed his life around performing tasks at the highest level. This gives  him far more pleasure than it should.

This is an unusual book for a young man to have written because it is filled with tips about the life and duties of a butler. You feel sorry for what Stephens has lost but understand that his father, a butler before him, has made the man. But you also despise often his behavior and pomposity. A very complex character.

Highly recommended. 

For more First Wednesday reviews, see Barrie Summy.


Barrie said...

Interesting. I hadn't thought about such a younger authors having such a wise perspective. This review reminded I need to read more by this author.I have 2 audible credits.... Perhaps his other books have great narrators as well. Thanks for reviewing!

George said...

I loved REMAINS OF THE DAY--both the book and the movie! You're right about young Ishiguro creating a mature character like the butler. A remarkable feat!

Lucy said...

Klara and the Sun is in my library ebook hold list. I can't remember where I heard it recommended but it's on my list of books to read soon.

I knew there was a movie for Remains of the Day but I didn't realize it was made from a book or what it was about. Your review makes me want to check it out though. Thanks for reviewing!

Sarah Laurence said...

Excellent review! I read this book ages ago and enjoyed the movie too. It would be interesting to revisit it. I also enjoyed Never Let Me Go. This author uses the mundane to explore dark themes with finesse.

Phyllis Wheeler said...

This is interesting! A repelling main character, and somehow the author pulls it off. Thanks for the review!

Jenn Jilks said...

I've not read this. You wonder where the imagination takes the author, sometimes!

Todd Mason said...

Empathy and research usually help. GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS and THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE come to mind as well, even if they can be seen as more critical. Nicholas Delbanco's IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE more navel-gazing.

Kazuo I's name typo'd.