Book review: ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro


The Second World War has been over for some time; England is still adjusting, Lord Darlington has died, and Darlington Hall has been sold to an American, Mr. Faraday. After three decades of being butler for Lord Darlington, Stevens is trying to adjust to the role under Mr. Faraday. As an English butler in such a significant house as Darlington Hall, he has overseen the full complement of staff that such homes require. Mr. Faraday uses the home infrequently, so he wishes to maintain it with the minimum number of servants. Finding the adjustment quite troublesome, Stevens is relieved when he receives a letter from Miss Kenton suggesting, he believes, that she would like to return to her former position at Darlington Hall. With the addition of an experienced person with whom he had previously enjoyed working, this would put the staffing at an acceptable level.

Mr. Faraday must be gone for a couple of weeks. His offer of the Ford and its petrol is first dismissed by Stevens, but after more thought, a motor trip north would allow him to investigate Miss Kenton’s apparent proposal. With that in mind, the road trip is begun. Much of the book consists of Stevens’ reflections upon his past. What constitutes a “great” butler? Has he achieved that status as his father had? He concludes that there are at least two requirements. One is to have the “dignity” and knowledge required of the position. And the other is to be attached to a distinguished household; arriving at that level of employment is its own recommendation.

Darlington Hall certainly met the last requirement, or at least it had. Unfortunately, Lord Darlington had thought his efforts could keep England out of the war. To that end, he had befriended German diplomats, as well as the Black Shirt group in England. He had made several trips to Germany and arranged English-German conferences at Darlington Hall. Though he had acted with the best of intentions, he was judged to have chosen the wrong side. As a result, Darlington Hall was no longer thought of as distinguished.

Stevens’ reflection on dignity took a somewhat different turn. He tended to think of that in terms of meeting the challenges brought by these and other large gatherings at Darlington Hall. Perhaps because of the main reason for his road trip, Miss Kenton was often a consideration. She had overseen the female staff under Steven’s overall direction. He cited several instances where their joint efforts had combined to meet the challenges, but also times they had disagreed. He had maintained the dignity required of his position in all instances. He and Miss Kenton met regularly after the day to compare notes and even occasionally were able to stray to other subjects. Miss Kenton eventually married and moved on.

Time has a way of changing all things, sometimes even a lifetime’s worth of beliefs and habits. It is not until near the end of the novel that the reader fully understands the significance of the title, “The Remains of the Day.”

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