Ishiguro could be a playwright, or at least a writer of monologues, as well as a novelist. I’m impressed by his ability to inhabit the mind of his narrator and enable the reader to do the same. In this book, when the consummate English butler Mr. Stevens felt unsure, I, too, had questions. I thought I knew more than Mr. Stevens, the narrator of the novel, himself, could see undercurrents and subtleties that he had chosen to ignore or was unable to see. But I couldn’t even be sure that I was not blinded by my own assumptions. I felt pity for Mr. Stevens, the coldness and futility of his life service to an ultimately unworthy cause. And yet . . . . It’s that ambiguity that gives the novel its beauty and makes it stay with me.
I imagined actor Anthony Hopkins as Mr. Stevens throughout my reading although I’ve not seen the movie version of Remains of the Day. I’m sure Mr. Hopkins did an admirable job in the role. However, I do wonder whether the movie was able to capture the nuance and self-deception and melancholy inherent in the novel.
I really liked Never Let Me Go, also by Ishiguro. I was not as taken by When We Were Orphans, another book I read by this author last year. Remains of the Day ranks with Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead as a novel of reminiscence, of confronting old age and lost dreams, and of assessing one’s legacy at the end of a long life. What if you spend your life in well-meaning and faithful service to a cause that turns out to be unworthy, even fraudulent?
Mr Stevens on dignity: “I suspect it comes down to not removing one’s clothing in public.”
What would he think of the internet and blogging?
Mr. Stevens in accepting an apology: “I am happy to assure you, sir, that I was not unduly inconvenienced.”
Warning: Not much happens in this novel. Mr. Stevens goes motoring. Mr. Stevens runs out of gasoline. Mr. Stevens has tea with an old friend and co-worker. Mr. Stevens reminisces. But there’s a richness there, nevertheless, that well repaid me for my time spent reading.