The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Published by: Faber and Faber
Published on: May 1989
Page Count: 245
Genre: Historical Fiction
My Reading Format: Audiobook provided to me by Tantor Audio for consideration
Audiobook Published by: Tantor Audio
Narrator: Simon Prebble
Audiobook Length: 8 hours 13 minutes
Audio Sample: You can find a sample of this audiobook from Tantor Audio here.
Available Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook
I first read The Remains of the Day in the early 1990s, shortly after seeing the film. It is a novel about an aging butler who, while looking back upon his life of service, contemplates dignity, being a success, and what it means to live a meaningful life. I loved the book. I’m pretty sure I remember raving about the book at work. I was in my early 20s at the time. After re-reading this book now, I’m not quite sure what it was about this book that made my young adult self gush. I say this not as a criticism of Kazuo Ishiguro or his novel. He is an excellent author and Mr. Stevens is a compelling and tragic character. This novel is purely character driven and, in the end, utterly sad. Where is the appeal to a 20-year-old?
Perhaps I’m not giving my 20-year-old self enough credit. It isn’t as if books are only relevant and meaningful for a reader once they’ve reached a certain age. You get out that which you are open to in a book. I just remember that in my 20s that I pitied people who lived their life only to be filled with regrets. I wasn’t going to make those kinds of mistakes. I was part of Generation X and we were going to do it all right. 20 years later, life isn’t anywhere near as black and white as it was back then. The idealist in me has been tempered. I understand what it means to have regrets. Because of this, I found The Remains of the Day very sad. It isn’t that I didn’t love the book. I just didn’t find it gushworthy because it is so terribly sad. I felt like I was sitting vigil with Mr. Stevens, knowing very well what it’s like to fool oneself into overlooking this and overemphasizing that. I know very well that following the rules is easier than doing what’s right, at least at the time when you can make a difference. As I listened to Mr. Stevens talk about dignity and duty, I knew that eventually all he lost or missed out on would reveal itself. I knew that he’d find that the ideals he espoused and clung to from his youth would end up false. They were in the end an excuse for not making his own way, being his own man. When that realization hit, my heart broke with him. Did my 20-year-old self do the same thing?
Simon Prebble exuded proper English gentleman in his narration of The Remains of the Day. In his voice he portrayed all of the stuffy dignity to which Mr. Stevens aspired and, most importantly, maintained a true human dignity throughout Mr. Stevens’ dark night of soul. I felt as though Mr. Stevens was telling me his story directly as I listened. I very much enjoyed Prebble’s work at the conference held at Darlington Hall, which was full of accents and personalities. His narration of the scene on the bench was beautiful. After listening to this book, I can fully understand why people love his work so much.
The time, place, and characters in Kazuo Ishiguro or his novel’s novel are almost rigid in their specificity. You have a true English butler trying to survive the societal changes that followed World War II. Great butlers had a distinct code of conduct and he followed it to the letter. Despite how boxed in Mr. Stevens and his world is, the themes of this novel are brilliantly universal. Something so simple conveyed so much. I may no longer relate completely to my 20-year-old self as a reader, but there are now two of us who have loved The Remains of the Day.