Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

Paperback, 1989

Call number




Vintage (1989), Edition: 30642nd


Fiction. Literature. HTML: From Kazuo Ishiguro, a tragic, spiritual portrait of the perfect English butler and his reaction to his fading insular world in post-war England..

Media reviews

The Remains of the Day is too much a roman à thèse, and a judgmental one besides. Compared to his astounding narrative sophistication, Ishiguro's message seems quite banal: Be less Japanese, less bent on dignity, less false to yourself and others, less restrained and controlled. The irony is that
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it is precisely Ishiguro's beautiful restraint and control that one admires, and, in the case of the last novel [The Remains of the Day], his nerve in setting up such a high-wire act for himself.
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1 more
Kazuo Ishiguro's tonal control of Stevens' repressive yet continually reverberating first-person voice is dazzling. So is his ability to present the butler from every point on the compass: with affectionate humor, tart irony, criticism, compassion and full understanding. It is remarkable, too, that
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as we read along in this strikingly original novel, we continue to think not only about the old butler, but about his country, its politics and its culture.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member lauralkeet
It is sometimes said that butlers only truly exist in England. Other countries, whatever title is actually used, have only manservants. I tend to believe this is true. Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are as a breed incapable of emotional restraint which only the English race are
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capable of. (p. 43)

Thus does Stevens, a butler on a fine English estate, describe the dignity and restraint he sees as essential elements of the truly great butlers -- a title he will not allow himself to claim, although it is probably deserved. Stevens spent 30 years in service at Darlington Hall, beginning in the 1920s. He did all his master asked of him, with complete decorum and the much-admired restraint. He was assisted by a housekeeper, Miss Kenton, who left after many years to marry and have a family of her own. The novel begins with Stevens taking a rare holiday, a trip across the country to visit Miss Kenton. A recent letter from her led him to believe she would be interested in returning to service at Darlington Hall. The letter resurrected memories and emotions; long suppressed in the interest of dignity and restraint. During Stevens' journey, he relives his years serving Lord Darlington, and his relationship with Miss Kenton.

The story is told entirely in Stevens' voice. Ishiguro has a way of making the situation perfectly plain to the reader, even though much is left unsaid. The reader sees a side of Lord Darlington that Stevens himself was unable to acknowledge. And his feelings for Miss Kenton are crystal clear, even though they never break through his reserved exterior. I nearly cried when he and Miss Kenton parted company the first time, and their reunion was heavily laden with missed opportunity and dashed hopes that once again were quite moving.

I was worried that this book would be spoiled by having seen the film many years ago. And while I couldn't help envisioning Stevens just as he was portrayed by Anthony Hopkins, I still found myself immersed in this book as if experiencing the story for the first time. Wonderful, emotional, reading.
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LibraryThing member RebeccaAnn
At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Mr Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving "a great gentleman." But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord
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Darlington's "greatness" and graver doubts still about his own faith in the man he served.

What an absolute treasure of a book. Here is one piece of literature that will make you revaluate your life. Have you ever looked back and wondered "what if" or "was that really the right thing to do" or "did I do the best I could"? This story is one man searching for those answers as he looks back on his life. Mr Stevens, throughout the course of this short novel, comes to terms with his inability to have any sort of relationship outside of the professional kind, his utterly blind faith in a man who was not a great as Stevens believed, and the real definition of "dignity". Dignity is not knowing your place. Is it not serving your employer well. Dignity is knowing you made a mistake and being able to own up to it. It is knowing that no, your life may not have turned out how you wanted it to, but still making the best of it. Stevens, a man unable to allow himself any sort of pleasure without somehow relating it to his job as a butler, realizes that his life is a lonely one and the man he served, once assuring himself that he was helping a great man change the world for the better in the only way he could, was in fact a supporter of the Nazis who was one of the biggest players in allowing Hitler to come into as much power as he eventually did.

This book is astounding and heartbreaking. I honestly don't know what else to say in this review because I feel nothing can really come close to the amount of pure, raw emotion found in these pages. Suppressed it may be, as that is what was required of Stevens to be a good butler, you can feel it flowing through every word like and electric current. The antics between Mr Stevens and Miss Kenton had me laughing. The inability of Mr Stevens and his father to express their love for one another had me crying. This is a book I will reread at least once a year. It is a reminder to everyone that mistakes in life are unavoidable but we should never stop living and if we found that somehow we have, it is never too late to begin again.
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
As my daughter was packing to leave after a recent visit with us, she pulled this book off the shelves in her old bedroom (where I keep much of my TBR overload), plopped it in front me and said "Read this". Of course, I've been meaning to, for years. So under direct orders, I did. I can't for the
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life of me figure out why this book is so compelling, or how Ishiguro made his main character so utterly real, but I couldn't put it down. I struggled through the prologue, which I found tedious and belabored, but with several high recommendations behind the book, I continued reading, and somewhere around page 30 I realized I was hooked. There is nothing obviously striking about the prose itself, and the story line is minimal...just a framework from which to hang Mr. Steven's musings about himself and his past. Mr. Stevens is an English butler of the old order, and he is painfully conscious of the fact that, in the second half of the 20th century, his kind may be facing extinction. He has lived a life based on service, on suborning his own opinions and denying the existence of personal feelings. Throughout a road trip across the English countryside he wrestles with memories, defending his former employer's lapses of humanity and rationalizing his own seemingly heartless behavior. Running under it all is a glimmer of hope that a meeting with former housekeeper, Miss Kenton, may hold promise of a different sort of future for Mr. Stevens. I join the legions of LT'ers who give this book high marks. To quote my daughter, "Read this."
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LibraryThing member Lman
The Remains of the Day was a difficult book for me to read, in more ways than one, requiring absolute concentration on a somewhat cheerless subject. And yet, when I reached the last word and turned the page, I was genuinely surprised to find myself finished. Such a contradiction may also apply to
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this whole work as Kazuo Ishiguro, using the most sublime prose and beautiful language, constructs an impeccable portrait of a British butler in the early 20th century.

Stevens, the butler of Darlington Hall finds himself, for the first time in a long life of service, able to avail himself of a few days away, and ventures on a journey through the English countryside, and a journey down memory lane. In doing so he relates, not only his experiences of his previous years as butler for Lord Darlington, but his ideals and beliefs, his opinions and, more importantly, his reasons behind virtually his entire life’s actions. Plus the difficulties he now encounters in his present role, working for a foreign employer, an American, in what has become, perhaps, a foreign world to one such as him - with changes in duties, like the need to learn how to banter - offer him the chance to contemplate issues and past actions in an entirely different light. And this journey accentuates his desire to portray the quintessential dignity of the English butler to the detriment of all else in his life, even when on holiday.

This is a poignant tale – it is distressing, at times heart-rending, often upsetting and quite emotional. But most of all it is sad. For as Stevens motors slowly through the countryside and narrates his thoughts, and his encounters, the reader subtly travels through the events of his life, and witnesses his subjugation of any personal emotion, or reaction, in order to carry out, in his mind, his primary purpose of serving a great man. And the ability of the author to paint such a moving portrayal of a character, who is difficult to like, to sympathise with, but causes such heartbreak in his inability to mourn his father’s death or acknowledge any personal relationship with the housekeeper, Ms Kenton, accordingly exemplifies the complexities and inconsistencies of such a man.

Overall I am astonished at the author’s skill to visually render, in my mind, such a vivid, realistic image of a British butler whose attitude, language and paradigm are superbly appropriate to the society of the time. This emotive story merits the perseverance and absorption, perhaps required by the reader, to finish the tale; for without doubt, the past, and what remains in this butler's day and age, is a tale worthy of consideration.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
“Today’s world is too foul a place for fine and noble instincts.” (224)

The aging butler of Darlington Hall, known only as Mr. Stevens, embarks on a five-day “motoring trip” (12) at the invitation of his new American employer. The leisurely pace lends itself easily to personal reflection,
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and Stevens becomes lost in a contemplation on the years of service which have comprised his life: his unrelentingly rigid commitment to duty; his deference to the gentry who have employed him; and his commitment to “dignity,” which, by his own definition, amounts to a barricade of professional armour never to be removed in the presence of another.

Stevens recalls the events of Darlington Hall in the years preceding WWII, when Lord Darlington was yet alive. He remained loyal to his Lord, despite overwhelming evidence, which escaped none but him, that Darlington was a Nazi sympathizer. And Stevens reminisces of his long working relationship with Miss Kenton, which, but for the impenetrable fortress of his dignity, might have been something more. Haltingly, he begins to question his misguided loyalties. He says of his relationship with Lord Darlington:

“He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but here, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?” (243)

I came to The Remains of the Day by way of Never Let Me Go, which I read last year and loved. I decided I needed to read more Ishiguro, and having long been aware of the literary and film accolades attached to The Remains of the Day, it seemed a logical place to start. It did not disappoint. In fact, Ishiguro is becoming a favourite author.

The Remains of the Day is beautifully written, its quiet musings unforgettable. Stevens, all moral and dignified, and tragic, is as enduring a character as I’ve come across. A must read!
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LibraryThing member LisaCurcio
A profound sense of sorrow lingered as I closed this book—sorrow for a life not wasted, but not lived to the extent that was possible.

We meet the English butler, Stevens, considering the offer of his present employer, Mr. Faraday to take a holiday. Mr. Faraday even offers to allow him the use of
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“the Ford”, and to “foot the bill for the gas”. Stevens has spent most of his adult life working in one of the great English houses—that of Lord Darlington. After his lordship passed on, the house was purchased by an American, and the butler was part of the package. The place that was owned by and frequented by “true ladies and gentlemen” of the first decades of the 20th century is now almost shut down and staff is reduced to just four, including the butler.

Stevens has been having some difficulty coming to grips with the change in the house since Lord Darlington’s death. Staff was reduced, and Stevens feels that he is not doing his job as well as he should. He finds himself discomfited and disconcerted by his American employer’s attempts to engage him in “bantering—something he does not know how to do. He sets about trying to teach himself to “banter”.

As he contemplates the offer, Stevens begins to reminisce about his life and work since just after the end of World War I. He ruminates on how one would be considered to be a “great butler”. Although he never asserts that he is such a person, it is apparent that he would like to believe that he would qualify as such. In fact, the reader must agree that he was a “great butler”.

Lord Darlington invited statesmen and politically influential men to what he saw as conferences designed to avert war with Germany. Stevens seemed oblivious to what appeared to be his employer's sympathy for the German position as Hitler laid waste to regions of Eastern Europe. He relinquished all independent thought about the world around him in deference to his employer’s perceived position. It is not just that he properly refused to engage in discussion with his lordship’s political visitors; he genuinely did not think about the important questions of the day. Stevens believed that important decisions about war and peace and democracy should be left to those of Lord Darlington’s class. He strove to run the house to always do well by his employer, and succeeded. In doing so, however, he sacrificed what most people would think were the more important aspects of a full life.

Finally, Stevens’ devotion to his work and effort to be a “great butler” precluded any possibility of any real personal relationship—his dying father is tended by the housekeeper while he maintains his post waiting to wait on the great gentlemen having the great discussions. And he vaguely recognizes feelings he has for that very same housekeeper, but sets them aside as he hurries to fulfill his duties.

A simple story, simply written with profound impact.
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LibraryThing member browner56
Do we really appreciate the implications of the choices we make in life? Kazuo Ishiguro doesn’t seem to think so; it is one of the themes that pervades his fiction. Nominally the story of Stevens, an English butler in service to a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, reflecting back on his
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career, this novel is really a journey of self-realization that comes way too late to save the protagonist from himself.

There is not a single false note in the entire story, which works as both a character study and an examination of the social mores of faded time and place. It is also one of the most delicately and subtly written books I have ever read. Through his portrayal of Stevens, the author allows the reader to consider the ultimate cost we pay for blindly devoting ourselves to the wrong cause. It is a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that richly deserves the numerous awards it has won.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
Mr. Stevens, butler for Darlington Hall, is taking an unheard of holiday, motoring across the English countryside for a few days. His destination: a meet-up with the former housekeeper for Darlington Hall, Mrs. Benn, nee Kenton. He harbors the hope that he can persuade her to return to address a
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staffing problem at the great house, now owned by a wealthy American, as he believes she is unhappy in her marriage and planning to leave her husband. Along the way, Stevens reminisces about events in the great house to which he has dedicated his career, especially during the 1930s when the lord of the house was playing host to a handful of eminent noblemen and politicians, hoping to broker a more peaceful Europe. He also reminisces about his friendship with Miss Kenton during her employ at the house.

This is a beautifully written wry portrait of an aging butler, a man who has carried himself through his professional life with an unflagging dedication to the dignity of the office, and who has paid the emotional price. Ishiguro's sense of irony is pitch-perfect and elegantly wrought. Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton are richly developed characters, created wholly through Mr. Stevens' imperfect and constrained memory of events and conversations. I found myself chuckling with delight at his deadpan delivery while also feeling tremendous sadness at the emotional cost of his choices. As a "Downton Abbey" fan, I occasionally channeled Mr. Carson's voice for that of Stevens, but Miss Kenton is her own character (Emma Thompson notwithstanding). Wonderful and highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member phebj
I absolutely loved this book.

It takes place in Britain in 1956 as Mr. Stevens, the long-time butler of Darlington Hall, takes a road trip through the English countryside. Darlington Hall has recently been sold to an American who has asked Stevens (we never learn his first name) to work with a
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reduced staff and Stevens is feeling the strain. He decides to combine his vacation with a visit to Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper, to see if she's interested in returning to her position. During the course of his trip, Mr. Stevens considers "certain recollections from the past."

First and foremost, we learn that Stevens has devoted his life to being a great butler, just as his father was--one who possesses "a dignity in keeping with his position." "Dignity has to do crucially with a butler's ability not to abandon the professional being he inhabits." (p. 42) "There is one situation and one situation only in which a butler who cares about his dignity may feel free to unburden himself of his role; that is to say, when he is entirely alone." (p. 169) Of course, he is alone on this trip and over the course of the book he starts to shed his role as a butler and you see cracks forming in his perfectly calm facade.

In The New York Times book review from 1989, Kazuo Ishiguro is quoted as saying that he "was interested in the way people come to face truths about themselves." What was so fascinating, and heartbreaking, to me about this book was how you gradually come to realize how Stevens is deceiving himself. He's developed the ability to restrain his emotions to such a degree that he's lost the ability to experience human warmth. One of the things that now unnerves him is the need to master the art of bantering so he can better serve his American employer, a much less formal man than Lord Darlington. By the end of the book, Stevens has faced some, but not all, of the consequences of the path he's taken in life and now must "try to make the best of what remains of [his] day."

There's no way I can really do this book justice. It's one of the best books I've read--funny, sad, well-written--and I can't believe I owned it for almost 20 years before I actually read it! It's a book I got totally immersed in and plan on re-reading. I would highly recommend it and am giving it 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member whirled
Stevens, the aging butler of Darlington Hall, is at times officious, pedantic, snobbish and maddeningly self-contained. He is also among the most heartbreaking literary characters I've encountered. Stevens is so invested in his role as efficient, unheard servant that his personality, opinions and
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especially his emotions are utterly repressed in deference to his master and to his professional persona. As the novel unfolds, Stevens comes to realise (or at least become dimly aware of) what his dogged commitment to duty and keeping up appearances has cost him. Typically of Ishiguro, there are no grand revelations, just a series of small moments and memories that offer insights into Stevens' character and the events he has witnessed. The writing, particularly in the scene where Stevens is reunited with his former colleague Miss Kenton, is subtle and beautiful. The Remains of the Day is deserving of its status as a modern classic.
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LibraryThing member Davidgnp
Usually I like to read a book before seeing a film adaptation, but in this case I came to the book late, several years after seeing 'The Remains of the Day' on screen. It meant that the narrator and central character, the butler Stevens, arrived for me entirely in the voice and form of Anthony
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Hopkins. Far from this being a distraction it worked wonderfully, like having one of the world's greatest actors come to read to you personally. It also worked the other way, allowing me to appreciate even more how well Hopkins had interpreted the part.

I am aware that authors can get irritated by readers who start to talk about the film version in tandem with the book - and I have heard Ishiguro admit that it took him a while to reconcile himself to the oft-heard line 'James Ivory's Remains of the Day' - but I also know that the author admires the film a great deal and sees it not just as complementary but as a separate piece of art in its own right; exactly my sentiment.

What Ishiguro does so well is to convey nuance through voice, and that is precisely Hopkins' strength, one of the reasons he was the ideal choice for Stevens. The book, of course, allows much more scope with its use of interior monologue, often to comment on the action that he describes, and which in the film we see played out as it happens. The book structure has Jenkins in the mid-1950s taking a leisurely drive across south-west England to meet up after many years with former housekeeper Miss Kenton (now married), and during the trip reflecting upon his years at Darlington Hall, his relationship with Miss Kenton and with his employer, Lord Darlington. It is a useful, fluid device that gives the author the flexibility to roam where he wants across the intervening years, to give us hints and glimpses of things that Jenkins has not yet fully revealed.

One thing we learn gradually is that Jenkins' employer is a Nazi sympathiser and anti-semite who has been used as a pawn by Hitler's men to try and keep Britain out of the coming World War. Darlington is not an essentially bad man but (like the butler who acts as his apologist) has a very limited world view, distorted by long-held assumptions of class, privilege and tradition. It makes both men myopic in other ways too. The callous dismissal of two faithful female servants who happen to be Jewish is one result of that affliction. For Jenkins, his inability to properly recognize the love he is being offered by Miss Kenton, or to interpret for himself (never mind articulate for her) his own inner feelings, is ultimately disastrous.

'The Remains of the Day' can be seen as a political parable (the unthinking obedience of the British servant to the ruling classes has its parallel in the response of the 'ordinary' Germans to their political masters), or as an elegy on the British class system; but it is most powerful at the level of individual lives, as a love story whose tragedy is that it never got going, whose principals are left, in the remains of the day, alone in their unspoken desperation.
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LibraryThing member akosikulot-project52
"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
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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 butlering 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.

Originally posted here.
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LibraryThing member katiekrug
A deceptively quiet and moving novel, The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, an English butler coming to the end of his service. And that service has been his whole life, his identity wrapped up in devotion to duty, loyalty, and dignity. It's a sad story, really. Stevens' life has not been
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his own, and as he makes a journey to the west of England, we learn just how empty that life may have been. The discomfort of realization, the justification for self-deception, the sense of wasted time - it's all beautifully evoked by Ishiguro in elegant, austere prose. After a slow beginning, as the layers of the story were peeled away, I settled in nicely to this thought-provoking and heartbreaking read.

4.25 stars
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
What a superb novel! I read it shortly after its initial publication in 1989 and loved it then, and it has lost nothing of its magic in the intervening years.
Essentially the novel is a paean to a Corinthian age of dignity and loyalty to one's employer that possible never really existed. The story
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is recounted in the nature of an informal doary by an aging Mr Stevens (we never learn his first name), butler at Darlington Hall, who has been allowed the rare luxury of a holiday in the late summer of 1956.
He spends this unaccustomed leisure time driving around the south of England on his way to visit a former colleague Mrs Benn, who as Miss Kenton had been housekeeper at the hall thirty years previously. In the intervening years the two of them have maintained a correspondence. Stevens's interpretation of the most recent letter from Mrs Benn is that her marriage may be unravelling and that she might shortly be looking for employment. His initial motive in visitng her was to ask her if she would consider resuming her old post at Darlington Hall, which is now owned by Mr. Farraday, a wealthy American, and run with a much smaller staff than had been the case in the heyday of the 1930s.
En route to visiting Mrs Benn Stevens indulges in some poignant memories of the 1920s and 1930s when Lord Darligton had been a minor player in political circles, with a particular agenda for rapprochement with Germany. As more memories rise to the surface, one's view of Lord Darlington falls into a sharper, and less favourable perspective.
During these recollections Stevens also speculates on the role of the butler, and what qualities might distinguish a truly great member of that profession. It transpires that Stevens's own father had been a butler, and that in his latter years had served as Stevens' own Under-Butler at Darlington Hall. The formality of relations between father and son are beautifully captured, with Stevens fils only ever addressing his father in the third person.
One of the most beautiful and haunting books I have read for a long time.
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LibraryThing member Eoin
Masterpiece. Taut, fastidious, and crushingly sad, Ishiguro manages to both inhabit and examine British-ness through his highly elided narrator. In the impossible way of things, this is a book about emotions while barely mentioning them, how to reveal by concealing, and human-ness (writ large)
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expressed by exacting historical and cultural detail. A real heart-breaker. Worth it for the banter.
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LibraryThing member ctpress
Will the real Mr. Stevens please stand up?

Nothing can penetrate the butler's uniform Mr. Stevens has armored himself with. We beign to wonder if there is a real Mr. Stevens with genuine emotions and a will of his own, because his whole being seems swallowed up in the greater role of serving at
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Darlington Hall.

This is a brilliant, well-written novel of manners. A portrait of an isolated man, totally unable to connect and open up - a warning example of conformaty and the danger of hiding behind a mask and not standing up for what is right. We truly feel sorry for him - but also a good insight into the costs many had to pay as servants in those days.

When Miss Kensington begin working at Darlington Hall as a housemaid she challenges Mr. Stevens strict protocol and reserved behaviour. She's trying to poke inside the armour. And we begin to sense some minor cracks.

Some scenes are very chilling because of the unemotional way Mr. Stevens narrates them. For example when he's busy attending the guests while his father is dying, or the clashes with Miss Kensington. And chilling the way he defends himself and rarely admits anything wrong in his own behavior. But then - isn't there something of Mr. Stevens in a lot of us? Our masks? Our identity in family and on the job? A lot to think about.

I've seen the movie adaptation with Anthony Hopkins several times - and I got a little more sympathy with Mr. Stevens listening to the audiobook. Brilliantly narrated by Dominic West.
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LibraryThing member SomeGuyInVirginia
I live in a large apartment building and often sit on the balcony and watch the world go by. One night I noticed one of my neighbors squatting down and staring at the front of his car, then walking around to the rear and doing the same thing. He’d circle the car and check the headlights, then the
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taillights, then the headlights, etc. Then he’d seem satisfied and walk away, only to pull up and come back to the car and repeat the episode. At first I thought he was looking for damage to the grill, or the wind had blown his hat under the car. Then I realized he was obsessive/compulsive and was fixated on whether or not his lights were turned off. I see him go through this at least a few times a week and imagine it's an always thing with him. The first night I wanted to shout, and still want to shout when I see him, ‘Just walk away!’

I mention this only in passing.


The Remains of the Day is beautifully crafted, it’s a story that rewards scrutiny from several different angles. When first published it was taken as a condemnation of the right, but I think what it’s saying is that political leaders are deeply flawed and their every move needs watching. In fact, the only time the book breaks the fourth wall and the protagonist addresses the reader directly is in the couple of instances where he says that people can’t hope to know enough to lead, or aspire to great things on the world’s stage, and we need to pays our nickels and takes our chances. Ishiguro doesn’t think this at all.

The story is pretty simple- a large country estate, home to one of Britain’s leading families, is sold to an American- it’s the Norman Rockwell Invasion. The house’s butler, Mr. Stevens, gets a letter from the old housekeeper that seems to hint that she’d like to return. Stevens sets out on a motor journey through the southern counties to visit her and, if she’s open to it, offer her a job. The day he sets out is the first day Darlington Hall has been empty since it was built over 200 years ago.

There’s a mystic bit to start- a rustic points Stevens to a beauty spot where he sees the soul of England in the countryside. During the ride, Stevens reflects on his life in service to Lord Darlington, a central figure between the wars.

Remains has been called sad, and it is, or can be, profoundly sad in some passages. But it’s more the sadness of melancholy, leavened with sweetness, rather than the crushing sadness of depression. Ishiguro gives the reader hope, even if he identifies with Stevens, that respite is available and people come together to make merry when the sun sets. (The end of the book takes place on an amusement pier and is really beautiful.)

The book’s theme seems to me to be the falling away of the old order, based on duty and sportsmanship, and the rise of the professional man and self interest. Ishiguro seems to really hate the professional man. Stevens loses the girl because he forces himself to act professionally at all times. An American senator is revealed to be a dishonorable lout then praises rise of professionalism in the US.

Ishiguro gives the reader an out, but he condemns Stevens at the end, who he sits on a bench on the pier, drying his eyes over his lost life and steeling himself to improve his bantering skills. Maybe the book needed a martyr.
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LibraryThing member Katie_H
It is hard to believe how much meaning Ishiguro was able to pack into this short novel. It is beautifully written, and the themes are simple and understated. Stevens is a proper English butler in post World War II England. Lord Darlington, his long-time employer has passed away, and his services
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are now retained by an American. His large staff of 30 people has been reduced to 3, and the class system that he is so accustomed to is fading before his eyes. After 30 years of service at Darlington Hall, he takes his first road trip, the goal being to visit the former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. In a mix of comedy and tragedy, Stevens is forced to face the mistakes of his life: his misguided support of his employer, a Nazi sympathizer, the suppression of his deep feelings towards Miss Kenton, allowing her to slip away from him, and in one of the most poignant and heartbreaking moments of the novel, Stevens's refusal to allow himself to grieve over his father's dead body, because he must attend to guests. While attempting to balance his public and private life, he has always sacrificed his true emotions in order to present a face of dignity as a proper butler should, but he is now forced to deal with what remains of his life, thus "The Remains of the Day." This is a wonderful and breathtaking novel that should not be missed.
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
The story is told from the point-of-view of a British butler, Stevens, and takes place in post-war England. Stevens served Lord Darlington's household for decades until Darlington died. He now remains in the Darlington house and serves its new owner, an American. The story slowly unfolds as Stevens
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travels through the countryside to visit Darlington's former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As he travels, Stevens reflects on the events in the past few decades, including his relationship with Miss Kenton and Lord Darlington.

Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, the subtlety of this book overwhelmed me. Ishiguro writes so beautifully. He unveils his characters slowly, giving them time to settle into the reader's mind before providing more insight into their thoughts. It's a simple plot, but the realizations Stevens faces about how he has spent his life are profound. I found myself thinking about the characters frequently after I'd put the book down. It has a heartbreaking simplicity and reminded me that stories don't need to rely on complicated plots when the characters are so well drawn.
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LibraryThing member jeniwren
This is narrated by Stevens, a perfect English butler who lives a narrow existence in a stately mansion. It gives insight into the workings of this life from the perspective of the hired help and how trapped they are within a class system. There is also the friendship between Stevens and the
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housekeeper and the love between them that is never acted upon but lasts for the rest of their lives. When the butler with some days to spare is offered the car from his employer he takes a motoring trip and reflects on a time of great change in England's past between the world wars and of the regret he feels at the end of his life. This is beautifully written and I will be looking for more of this authors work. A book I would recommend to others.
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LibraryThing member starbox
A very sad, very controlled novel, following narrator, butler Mr Stevens, as he leaves a life devoted to impeccable service for a short motoring trip in 1950s England. As he drives, he muses on his life - and tries to give it substance and significance, as he recalls his unquestioning devotion to a
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seriously fallible employer; his perpetual efforts to proritize the needs of his 'betters' over his own, the 'dignity' which he feels he achieved as an irreproachable member of staff. Even the trip- where he intends to meet up with a former housekeeper, and where romance might just have blossomed - is justified to himself as work-based, seeing whether she would like to return to fill a vacancy. Even the struggle he has with 'banter' and small talk is considered only in terms of improving himself for his employer's benefit - not his own.
The reader can see that whatever complexion Stevens likes to put on his life, such selflessness has led it to be a huge wasted effort, and that such complete and constant rectitude and control of one's emotions is not, in fact, a life in which to bask in satisfaction. And one suspects that Stevens somewhat grasps that fact too...
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LibraryThing member mudslideslim
Another still small reminder that the generation and maybe even a part of ours feel duty bound to do what's expected of us, no matter what it may do to our fate, it's a sad story and in the end the man continued on despite the loss of his one only chance for personel happiness, sound familar?
LibraryThing member michaeldwebb
I love books that take me to a place I had no idea that I wanted to go, and 'Remains of the Day' really does this - in this case the place is the mind of a mid 20th century upper class butler. Initially I was put off this because of the existence of the film (which I have never seen as it includes
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the threat 'starring Emma Thompson'), but I picked it up after reading 'Never let me go', which I loved.

The book revolves around the reflections of an aging bulter of an upper class house as he travels to see an old colleague. Ishiguro creates a completely believable world in with the bulter has given everything to his profession, and revels in telling the tale in a highly manner way. I don't want to give anything away, just in case I'm not the only person who hasn't seen the film, but the way the full story is slowly revealed is very similar to Never Let Me Go.

I've decided that Ishiguro is an author I like very much, so I've just bought The Unconsoled.
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LibraryThing member JaneSteen
Where I got the book: my local library.

Like Never Let Me Go, this novel left me with a feeling of extreme discomfort and the impression that it would stick in my head for a long, long time. Ishiguro does chilling very well, because he doesn't just make the ordinary chilling; he imagines an
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ordinariness that is so self-effacing that we plunge deep below the surface only to find--more surface.

In The Remains of the Day he shows us Mr. Stevens, a man who so perfectly inhabits the role of butler to a great man that there is simply nothing else of him left. Every thought is made subject to his notions of being the perfect butler, and similarly every emotion; in striving to preserve perfect dignity, he screens off the love that's within his reach, all affection, all curiosity and all the bitterness that he should properly feel in the realization that his late employer was not the great man Stevens thought he was, but simply a pawn in the hands of the powerful.

As with Never Let Me Go, I was struck by two things: the long, rambling passages detailing the main character's obsessions, and the feeling of deep unease that began to grow inside me almost on page 1. And I can see that the two things are linked; by allowing the reader into the minutiae of everyday preoccupations, Ishiguro brings us into the character's very soul and we discover that there is nothing there, or perhaps only a tiny, shriveled thing mewling away blindly in the darkness. It's horrifying because it could be us. How often have we turned away from facts or events because they are none of our business? Because we wish to concentrate on what we believe is our main purpose in life? And supposing we're wrong about that purpose?

I can't say I liked this short novel. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to re-read it one day.
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LibraryThing member sloopjonb
The story of Stevens, a butler so uptight he can't reveal his true feelings even to himself, is a masterclass in the tricky art of the Unreliable Narrator. The art lies in gradually letting the reader know the true situation, even though Stevens will never tell us directly. The true tragedy of
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Stevens' life becomes apparent only at the end, and what seemed to be an unfeeling and unsympathetic character suddenly becomes all too human.

One thing I wasn't expecting was to laugh. Stevens' musings on the thorny question of bantering in the opening chapters had me grinning hugely ... and yet, his musings on the same topic at the end, in the literal and metaphorical evening were ... excuse me, but would you happen to have a tissue handy? So kind. Touch of hayfever, I fancy.

(I must see the film).
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