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Book Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Pick up any book of Ishiguro and you will crave for other novels of him. Even if you begin with ‘The Remains of the Day’, any day you would become a fan of him even before completing the book. Ishiguro is a fantastic weaver of words and a brilliant storyteller. A simple life chiseled to stand out, a story of a person who has been an integral part of the old English aristocratic families.

The book delves into the life of a butler. Can this turn out be an interesting read? That’s the challenge which Ishiguro took up and succeed like anything.

The protagonist is Stevens. He sets out on a motoring expedition on the behest of his current master, an American gentleman, Mr. Farraday, a kind and generous man, who also lends him his Ford to travel through the naturally beautiful countryside of England to the West Country.

As the journey of Stevens proceeds, his memories unfurl like the winding and the unwinding roads, blending perfectly the past and the present where readers get to know about his two employers and his life with them so far.

The first was Lord Darlington. The house derives its name and fame from him, Darlington Hall. It is during this tenure with The Lord then young Stevens excels in his profession. His dedication, his insight on dignity that in his views is extremely difficult to acquire and maintain in such profession, helps one to become a great butler and touch great levels.

Stevens needs years of ‘self-training and careful absorbing of experience’, is beautifully expressed. His passion and his respect for the job comes out through the described incidents ranging from being audience to the serious political discussion, post WW1, to a complete swinger on the other hand, that being entrusted by the Lord and his dear friend Senior, Mr. Cardinal to have a most intimate of conversation about birds and the bees with his young son, Junior Mr. Cardinal, is hilariously laced to witty repertories. The balancing act of knowing yet not knowing more than ones employer on certain matters, the delicate relationship between the co-workers is dealt sensitively.

The dark and at times subtle difference of working under an American and English master is well brought out. For instance, “My…my Stevens. A Lady friend! That too at your age,” embarrasses Stevens, as it unexpectedly comes from Mr. Farraday, which otherwise would have been unthinkable from Lord Darlington. To this Stevens observes, “The sort of bantering which in the United States, no doubt, is a sign of a good, friendly understanding between employer and an employee, indulged in as a kind of affectionate sport.”

As Stevens travels, so do readers with him through this tales and the people he meets. Interesting characters, simple, honest warm and welcoming. One such beautifully crafted character is of Mrs. Kenton, his ex-co-worker. They decide to meet up during this vacation after many years, to rediscover their feelings about each other. Was there love? It is untold and ignored. How does one keep their dignity and integrity in tricky situations as a butler? How fine is the line of relationship between an employer and his butler to tread upon? How difficult is it to keep one’s emotion at bay? Is the call of duty above a dying father?

Curious to get all these questions answered, pick up the book: The Remains of The Day. Surely you will be overwhelmed to recommend it to your reading club. 


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