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The Remains of the Day
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125 of 127 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2001
This book has the ability not only to make you feel deeply moved by its main protagonists but to re-evaluate your own life, relationships and values. It explores the break down in communications between individuals of "opposite" sex, social class and nationality and the pressure to conform to moral, social and political standards at the expense of natural feelings. The hero Stevens, a butler, represses his feelings so much that he cannot or will not admit his attraction to housekeeper Miss Kenton. His obsession with the "role" of butler and archaic notion of "Dignity" creates a barrier between them which neither is able to break down. The frustration for the reader is that the truth is there so plain to see, narrated by Stevens himself, and there are many opportunities for them to connect; when Steven's father dies; when Miss Kenton receives a proposal of marriage, but the hard shell of reserve the butler builds around himself never cracks. Tradition and reputation remain more important than his happiness. Meanwhile this small drama is played out against the backdrop of the British government appeasement of Hitler's burgeoning German Nazi party just before WWII, where, paralleling the difficulties in communication within the domestic staff, His Lordship tries to bring European leaders together for the best, but misguided, reasons. There are so many powerful episodes and touching scenes - when Stevens' demeanour causes him to be mistaken for His Lordship, when he is asked to his embarassment to explain the facts of life to His Lordship's betrothed nephew and when he is quizzed by one of his employer's politician guests as a representative sample of the working classes. Each of these confirm that he is a dying breed of dinosaur from a feudal age, an unquestioning and naive bond slave in a world turned sour and cynical and how ineffectual as a human being. As storm clouds gather over Europe, political lies and intrigue mirror the confusion in Stevens' household and relationships and both he and his employer ultimately and tragically suffer from an inability to recognise the truth. Behind the facade of dignified gentility, and a veneer of unwavering formality, the inner turmoil within the political arena, the house, the staff and Steven's own conscience make this an intense and absorbing read on many levels. He is an intensely maddening and yet touchingly likeable character. Absolutely fascinating and totally realistic. A top ten novel of the 20th century.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2003
The Remains of the Day is brilliant. Kazuo Ishiguro's ability to portray characters realistically is unsurpassed, and the fading world of the protagonists is described reverently and perfectly.
An aging English butler called Stevens sets off on a quiet motoring tour of Devon in the late 1950s. As he drives leisurely through the English countryside, he muses on times past and the exact nature of 'greatness', a quality which he has strived to attain all his life.
Stevens is perhaps one of the most distinctive characters that I have encountered during my reading life. He is the perfectionist to end all perfectionists, but his demands for everything to be correct are as stringent on himself as they are when he is supervising the rest of the dwindling staff at Darlington Hall. He is devoted to his work and does not let anything-or anyone-shake off his persona of efficiency and manners. This means that he hides his real emotions for most of the book, and is reluctant even to reveal them to the reader. His new master, an American, is fond of making jokey remarks to Stevens which would be unheard of when he was serving Lord Darlington and seem to shock him. His faltering attempts to make light bantering conversation add a touch of gentle humour to what is essentially a rather sad story.
Overall, The Remains Of The Day is a superbly crafted book, with all the plot's undertones of politics, romance, patriotism, etiquette and 'greatness' perfectly managed. One of the best passages has to be where Stevens explains why the English landscape is one of the world's greatest, and if you've ever visited Devon, even in this age of motorways and housing estates, you will see what he means. This book is really one of the best I've ever read, and the 1989 Booker Prize is well deserved. A true, beautiful classic.
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2001
This must be the most desperately sad and beautiful book that I have ever read. I was absolutly hooked from the first page right until the end, and even found myself crying once i had finished.
It is a story of hopelessness, a journey of self discovery and a love story, told simply. At the end, you are both exasperated with the narrator as well as desperately sorry for him.
an exquiste read
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 25 March 2006
Like all of Ishiguro's novels the book requires some stamina and thought, but what evolves from this is perhaps one of the most rewarding literary experiences you are likely to find. Indeed, the book should be classified as fiction, though would not be out of place in the 'personal development' section of your local bookstore, for if ever there was a book that so painfully portrays how we should not live our lives, The Remains of the Day is it. It is stiff-upper-lip all the way as Stevens the butler narrates his way through years of service to a fascist Lord Darlington. His aim is to achieve 'dignity' in his role to the point where service is the be all and end all of his life, putting work before everything; his own health, the death of his father, and most frustratingly, the mutual attraction with Miss Kenton. Everything in the book is so brutally real and tragic, nobody gets killed, there is no violence or bad language, just the memoirs of a lonely man who somehow has to come to terms with the mistakes he has made in his life. Is there anything more tragic than a life half-lived? It is a sublime book, make time for it and it will stay with you for a very long time.
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
I bought this book a long while ago for a reason I don't remember, it must have been a recommendation, but it has been sitting on my bookshelf ever since. The other day I was looking for something to read and I went for The Remains of the Day. This book is a masterpiece. Beautifully written with intriguing characters I could have started this book over the moment I finished the last page. What I find most interesting is how the emotions of the repressed central character Stevens are only revealed by others reaction to him, he remains stoic and "dignified" to the end, despite ultimately coming realise he has wasted his life serving the misguided Lord Darlington. Kazuo Ishiguro has the most amazing grasp of the upstairs/downstairs England of yesteryear and I cannot recommend this beautiful and moving novel highly enough - fully deserving of its Booker Prize (not something to be said about them all!)
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 4 June 2004
Other reviewers have already explained the plot behind the book very nicely, so I will only add that in terms of writing, this is as good as it gets. It also goes to show that you don't have to have a prodigious vocabulary a la Will Self (not to knock him, but he is the perfect example of this) to create a work of art. This book is written in fairly simple language, but the language is used so elegantly that it is much more of a pleasure to read than certain other authors who seem to feel that the only way to impress their readers is to baffle them. I find that Ishiguro's other novels, while all brilliant in their own right, do not quite match up to this quite superb novel (although this is like saying that Van Gogh never quite equalled "Sunflowers").
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2005
The Remains of the Day charts the life of an english butler - Mr Stevens. Written in the first person it is an intensely moving and thoughtful account of one mans ideas on dignity and morality. Both amusing and sad in places Ishiguro is a master in his brilliant characterisation and perfect use of language. While it is fair to say that the plot isn't very quick, this book is the kind that would be worsened if it did and the emotions would be the less for it.
I heartily recommend this to everyone. I couldn't put it down and read it in two days.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2006
It's amazing that it is a Japanese writer who has written a novel which portrays the essence of Englishness. It reads extremely well and the first person narration is a wonderful device, resulting in a lot of irony and self-delusion. The butler who narrates the entire story is an amazing creation, he totally gets on my nerves, but I think this is how Ishiguro intended the reader to respond. He is not a man without faults no matter how hard he tries to convince himself otherwise, and Ishiguro creates a wonderful contrast between what he says and what the reader thinks of him. If you're looking for a novel which explores character, memory and nostalgia, this will be the perfect read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 5 May 2011
Wow! My husband had been going on at me for ages about reading this one! Glad I did. If you want to be blown away by a narrative that is beautifully clever, funny, deeply moving and profoundly memorable, this is it. I darn near broke my own heart at various points when Stevens, the main character, is emotionally exposed. Wait until you get to the sentence towards the end of the book when they meet, after Miss Kenton expresses her thoughts about the choices she has made and her wondering about their life together - had they had one! It is like Stevens is born and regret doesn't even suffice. The relationship between him and Miss Kenton is definitely weep-worthy! You want to jump right into the narrative (this is what makes it real for the reader)and shake Stevens into acknowledgement of what he feels but won't allow himself to feel or even realise. What is dignity? If only Stevens had allowed himself to breathe for himself; think for himself; live, even partially for himself... There is so much in this book. It has got to be one of the best modern day classics of our time.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2009
Ah - three cheers for the good old British stiff upper lip!

Ishiguro once again demonstrates his brilliance in crafting this haunting, delicate web of a love story. Yet at the same time it is a powerful and very potent exploration of character and emotional dilemma.

In any other circumstances Stevens would not be a very engaging character - stiff, cold, unemotional - but Ishiguro manages to draw us into his world so that we can't help but feel for him. At one point I found myself speaking out loud to the characters - and when I saw the film I felt like standing up and shouting at the screen!

I so wanted Stevens to drop his guard, let out all that supressed passion and just ravish the lovely Miss Kenton! But I suppose that would have been a bit too Mills & Boon!

I'll settle for a lesson in how living in denial - in love or any other area of our lives - somehow switches off something inside us and, sadly, never quite allows us to grasp that elusive potential and possibility. We should face the truth and the truth will set us free.

The film of this book is also brilliant - Anthony Hopkins plays Stevens amazingly, and with such subtlety that, despite having read the book first I can't see Stevens as anyone else but Hopkins now. The on screen tension between him and Emma Thompson is electric.
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