This is my first Kazuo Ishiguro and I’m still mulling it over, always the sign of a book that is going to stick with me. There’s a light plot in The Remains of the Day, but most of it is a character study and an examination of what it means to give your life totally to a vocation. The narrator, Stevens, is a great English butler still recovering from his old employer’s death and trying to come to terms with moving into the last phase of his life. His new employer offers him a chance to go motoring about the country so the reader gets both the narrative of his journey and the narrative of his past relationship with Lord Darlington (his old employer) and Miss Kenton (the old housekeeper) told in flashbacks. This deceptively simple story contains layers of hidden meaning. It’s the kind of book you want to revisit and pull new thoughts and realizations out as you slowly change over the years.
It doesn’t surprise me that The Remains of the Day won the Man Booker Prize. Ishiguro’s writing is at once subtle and stunning. I had heard this book was sad, but although I found much of it melancholy, there was actually a surprising amount of humor in it. In certain ways, this book felt like a modern descendant of Jane Austen. Not in the love story aspect, but in the subtle yet witty writing and in some of the themes of class and behavior. Ishiguro treats his character with compassion and empathy, but he gently pokes fun at his character deficiencies in the same way Austen does with her supporting characters like Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice or the Middletons in Sense and Sensibility.
I want to say I’d recommend this book to anybody, but I’m not sure everyone would like it. If you’re someone who needs a strong plot that moves quickly, this isn’t your book. If you’re someone who likes character development and subtlety, you must read The Remains of the Day. It’s a lovely piece of writing sure to stay with you long after you finish it.