I finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day” yesterday as part of my Reading England Project. I had heard enough of this book and again the fact that this was a Booker Prize winner put me on the guard! But seems like recent events seem to be turning my view on Booker Prize winning works – take for instance “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” and now “The Remains of the Day”. I feel like kicking myself for not reading this work earlier and having lost out on such lovely, beautiful and absolutely heart breaking experience. I think I have just shared the very core of the book, but let’s nevertheless get on with the details.
Set in 1956, the novel is written in a first person narrative of Steven’s, the butler at Darlington Hall. Darlington Hall has recently been bought by an American Mr. Faraday from the heirs for Lord Darlington, and had requested Stevens to continue in his capacity as a butler for him as well. Since Mr. Faraday was going away for some time to America, he generously offers Stevens the use of his Ford as well for providing his food and lodging cost, if Stevens chose to take a short vacation. The receipt of a letter by Ms. Kenton, the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, in which he believes there are hints of an unhappy marriage, Steven’s proposes to take a “motoring tour” both to enjoy a vacation and to revisit Ms. Kenton and to better understand if she was likely to return to her employment at Darlington Hall. Over the next six days, Stevens drives across England and each day, he recalls his life and certain incidents in past – memories of life at Darlington Hall during the intervening war years, the glory days of Lord Darlington and his eventual fall from grace, of Ms. Kenton’s tenure at Darlington Hall and her departure from Darlington Hall after her marriage in 1935, her relationship with Stevens and Stevens own relationship with his father and his understanding of “dignity” and “duty”. His motoring trip finally culminates in his meeting Ms. Kenton after 20 years and the dawning realization of all that is lost and all that remains of his day!
What can I say about the book that has already not been said? There is tragedy, there is pathos, there is heart break and finally there is resilience! Steven’s character is beautifully drawn out as a man whose understanding and diligence at his profession, makes him loose on what is lost to him as a human and a man. His expectation from himself and his complete belief in Lord Darlington’s purpose is touching and deeply moving! Ms. Kenton is a wonderful flesh and blood character that sparkles and shines, with all the emotions of failings and triumphs! Lord Darlington is a brilliant character from the long gone past of “gentlemanly conduct” and “Noblesse oblige”, a misfit in an era of cunning political maneuvers and double diplomacy, where his best intentions lead him to his ruin – a familiar tale for many once great people. The plot is beautifully woven, passing between past and present, showcasing the lost grandeur of landed gentry and the changing society of post-world war England. The language is mesmerizing…it’s not lyrical or poetic, but it is English language at its best! Straightforward, crisp, succinct and rich! Despite the tragic stain of the book, there are innumerable moments of brilliant and subtle wit which takes off the tension and makes you laugh. Finally, inspite of the pathos and the heartbreak, it is not a bleak book – it is tribute to the resilience of human soul and its ability to look beyond and move on!
Brilliant, mesmerizing and absolutely marvelous!!