“Don’t keep looking back all the time, you’re bound to get depressed.” – Thoughts on The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
It seemed quite unlikely that I’d be impressed with Mr. Stevens’ accounts of his motoring holiday that took him to see the English countryside, so subtly interwoven with his reminiscences of certain instances and occasions during his days as butler to the great Englishman Lord Darlington. Quite frankly I judged the book as a mere simpleton, and was, to say the least, puzzled as to how it won an award as prestigious as the Man Booker Prize.
That was my opinion upon reading the first page.
I would like to admit now, having finished the book, that I could not have been more wrong. I love Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. In fact, it now counts as a favorite.
You see, it really did all lie on the simplicity of the book – a simplicity in writing and narration that hid a fistful of complications, surfacing one by one in the subtle way that Ishiguro must be known for (this being my first book by him). Stevens’ motoring adventures across the countryside was inconspicuous enough to have served as a backdrop for his musings and dipping into his past, brought about by a letter from a former houseworker, Miss Keaton, who worked with him during the glory days of Darlington House – glory days that were now marred with gossip against his former employer Lord Darlington, and the role the Englishman played during Hitler’s regime.
I was at first, though, torn between merely adoring Stevens and intensely loving him and being on his side, come what may. He talks extensively and highly of being a butler as a serious profession; of the business of bantering, and how he fails miserably at it; of tradition; and, most importantly, of certain memories recalled during his trip – memories that are both honest and unreliable, supposedly painful but were otherwise remembered not because of the pain felt, but by the great accomplishments achieved as a butler during those times – emotional and powerful memories, diminished into mere memorable butler trivialities. Stevens tells and retells his stories again and again, with facts and their probable implications altered each time; these being seemingly random memories, when so obviously things are not remembered just because. “There was surely nothing to indicate at the time that such evidently small incidents would render whole dreams forever irredeemable.” Here was a man who was so out of touch with his country – “restricted as I am by my responsibilities in the house” – and himself. He was a sad man, and even he didn’t know that about himself, and I loved him for it.
The Remains of the Day is a story of, among other things, nostalgia, regrets, denial, and a lost love. It is a story of how looking back is a dangerous thing, in a way – we try to remember and see faults, and in seeing those faults we are pained. “After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”
PS. I would like to thank the previous owner of the copy I read, who spared no marginal space in writing copious notes – it is all thanks to you that I was able to realize a love story was involved, even before it was hinted at. Yes, I am quite appalled I was that daft.