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on 23 December 2015
Written in the first person singular this is Stevens the butler’s story, but like Gone with the Wind before it, it signifies the end of an era. The loss of the great houses and their structured way of life as Darlington Hall is sold to an American. Now staff numbers are reduced as they are no longer needed. The narrator’s voice is that of the very formal butler, Stevens, who attributes a decline in standards due to staff not having enough work and too much time on their hands. Dignity and professionalism are words constantly used throughout the book and this is something the narrator obviously values and is very proud of. He refers to conversations with colleagues where the merits of individuals are discussed. How those who rise through the ranks quickly are often not of the same quality as those more experienced. He makes reference to the Hayes Society and how they only admitted the best. In the writers opinion his father would have been an ideal candidate due to his dignity in office.

There is a tension between Stevens and Miss Kenton over how to address his father, since tradition demands he is addressed by his Christian name as the under butler, but Stevens maintains she should address him as Stevens Senior as befits his status. When his father passes away he maintains his sense of duty saying that is the way his father would have wanted it. Another example is when he refuses to acknowledge he had previously worked for Lord Darlington, the idea of maintaining privacy and confidentiality.

The idea of tradition, dignity and hierarchy is challenged at the end of the book when he is forced to stop at Morecombe. The villagers assume he is a titled gentleman, but more educated eyes see through this and recognise the traits of Stevens’ profession. It is here that Stevens’ long held belief is challenged. “Dignity isn’t just something every man and woman in this country can strive for and get.” This is referred to as a certain pride and respect which everyone deserves. Stevens’ response is interesting. “There is surely little in his statements that merits serious consideration. Of course one has to allow that Mr Harry Smith was employing the word ‘dignity’ in a quite different sense altogether from my own understanding of it.” There is a snobbery here which seeks to lift dignity out of its common meaning and turn it into a status symbol. Equally the learned hierarchy suggest, “there is, after all, a real limit to how much ordinary people can learn and know..” The speaker goes on to say, “Is it any wonder, saddled as we are with our present parliamentary system that we are unable to find any solution to our many difficulties?” The contrast is drawn between the parliamentary system and the rise of fascism in Germany and in hindsight how mis-guided that faith in the German system was.

The novel ends how it begins, on the subject of bantering and how informal conversations and relationships have become in the modern world. Stevens now has to try and accommodate this new tradition and incorporate it into his duties, something he will now try to do with more diligence as befits his profession. Perhaps the irony is, that if he had cultivated Miss Kenton’s feelings for him, instead of maintaining their professional relationship, conversations, or bantering may have come more easily to him.
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I have no idea why it has taken me so long to read this novel, despite having read most of this authors work and loved it, and yet this, deservedly, is regarded as his classic. Perhaps, subconsciously, I was afraid of being disappointed but, if so, then I am glad to say that I certainly was not. In many ways, this is classicaly understated; as English as you can possibly imagine. Stevens has spent his entire life and career in service, as a butler, with thirty five years working for Lord Darlington at Darlington Hall. When we meet him it is 1956 and the days of the aristocracy and great houses are dying out. Darlington Hall is now in the hands of Mr Farraday, an untitled American, who is a kind and thoughtful man. So thoughtful is he that, when intending to go abroad, he encourages Stevens to take a trip of his own, even offering the use of his own car. This isolated and repressed man decides to visit Miss Kenton, now Mrs Barr, the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall.

During Stevens journey, he muses on his past life. It is fair to say that Stevens has spent most of his time building barriers between himself and others. His entire reason for living has been to serve Lord Darlington, who we gradually realise is undeserving of such utter loyalty. Meanwhile, his feelings for Miss Kenton, and hers for him, are poignantly revealed. Kazuo Ishiguro is a genius of an author and much of the substance of this outstanding novel lies in what he doesn't say (or write), as much as what he does - an almost impossible task for any other author. His gentle unveiling of the absurd posturing of Stevens, his inability to deal with either his own, or others, feelings, his sad regret, and Miss Kenton's attempts to breach his defences are heart rending. This is one of the most touching, and brilliantly written, novels I have read.
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on 24 November 2014
This is a combination of Jeeves (P.G.Wodehouse) and In Search of England (H.V.Morton). I don't think it is as successful as either although to win the Booker is no mean feat. The humour is a lot drier than Wodehouse and the description of England a good deal skimpier than Morton. Where it scores is the intimate description of the role of the Butler in a grand house and his relationship with the other "below stairs" staff plus the inevitable decline in the role of full-time servants following the 1st World War. Some of the imagined conferences that took place are interesting but, although based on historical fact, do not really add much to anyone who knows just a little history.

There is a theme going through the book of the philosophy of what it takes to be a Great Butler. Stevens, the central character, clearly fails in this by his own standards and, although he imagines that he was nearly Great in his heyday he sadly ends up by denying his former employer and admitting his errors.

Entwined through the book is a motoring journey that he takes in search of an old colleague for whom he clearly has romantic feelings, I will not tell you the outcome!
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This heart-breakingly understated novel of duty and emotional reserve is Kazuo Ishiguro's most accomplished novel.

To any writer, "The Remains Of The Day" is a masterclass in narration. The narrator, known only as Mr Stevens, tells us his story in his own words. He prides himself on his command of language and on his felicity of phrasing; and yet, the story he tells us is quite different from the story he thinks he is telling. Hardly a sentence in this wonderful novel is devoid of resonances, and what appears to be the saga of successful careers and heroic characters actually turns out to be a portrait of self-delusion, the saddest failures and of wasted lives.

Deeply moving, and yet life-enhancing, this is a wonderful book. Despite the tragic elements, a current of almost Wodehousian humour prevents it from being anything other than a delight throughout.

An unlikely masterpiece. Highly recommended.
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on 7 July 2014
this is a subtle and clever book which paints an utterly convincing picture of two people who almost find love together but the impetuosity of one is never destined to overcome the hidebound and duty heavy nature of the other.

Some of the scenes are truly memorable especially those between Stevens and his father and there are interesting historical glimpses of the German appeasement via Ribbentrop and the book is close to being wonderful

I feel that the debate about the nature of honour and dignity along with the detailed discussion of the Butler's society are too drawn out and make a slow paced book almost come to a halt in parts.this is the main reason I cannot give it the highest rating although it will linger long in the memory.
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on 21 March 2015
A gentle read and a sad story of a butler who has been devoted to his job and now looks back on his life. It has a hopeful ending if not the hoped for ending?? I think it helped that I had seen the film first (unusually) as I think it would have been harder to sympathise with the characters without the visual aid of Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins! Many characters come and go and some I would have liked to have spent longer with but that is the nature of the book and life as a butler I suppose.
I enjoyed it but it would not be everybody's cup of tea. It is not exciting or fast paced.
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VINE VOICEon 6 November 2011
In 1956 Stevens, an ageing English butler, takes a road trip to visit and ex-housekeeper who married and moved to Cornwall. Through a series of flashbacks he recounts his life in the service of Lord Darlington. He is proud of the position he has achieved and is convinced that loyalty to his employer is paramount. His employer's wishes must always be acted upon - as it is clear to him that Lord Darlington (and his ilk) must know best. It is not the role of an employee to challenge his betters. So he seems to carry out the dismissal of two Jewish housemaids with little regret. He stresses the importance of dignity but his definition of dignity is to remain calm and unruffled in all circumstances. His priority is his job - so he continues to serve drinks to Lord Darlington and his political allies as his father lies dying in a room above.

He has adopted a very narrow view of the world: "a butler's duty is to provide good service. It is not to meddle in the great affairs of the nation." But his attitude has destroyed his own humanity and ability to communicate meaningfully with others. Only in the last few pages does he seem to gain some insight into his own life.

This is a multi-layered book with references to politics, class, family and friendship. Now and again the lucky reader comes across a perfectly constructed novel - strong characterisations, superb plotting and exquisite prose. The Remains of the Day is one such novel.

A modern classic.
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After immersing myself in two of Ishiguro's masterpieces lately, Never Let Me Go and the Artist of the Floating World, I realized I had never read this book, even though one of my favorite movies was based on it.

Yet again, Ishiguro makes use of the fickle processes of memory recall, giving his book a very familiar and organic feel. Events unfold like yellowed notes dropping haphazardly from old books as one pulls them from their shelves on a lazy afternoon.

James Stevens, butler to Darlington Hall, is on a slow motor-trip towards the West country hoping for a second chance to make up for a life wasted on misplaced trust. During this trip he reminisces on the events up to that point and comes to realize that striving to be "possessed of a dignity in keeping with one's position" entailed sacrifices much greater than anticipated. At the same time, the rewards for this accomplishment are very conditional.

The book is mesmerizing and beautiful, the characters deep, their motives familiar and their decisions universally understood. Kazuo Ishiguro not only recreated the 1930's atmosphere but also a timeless character that embodies the essence of dignity - and exemplifies the irrevocable consequences of misplaced loyalty.

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on 14 August 2016
The past is constantly present in the characters daily life and determines thier actions.The butler is emotionally repressed and the housekeeper tries to help him but he is trapped in his past ,which is also his fathers past.The aristocrat features also in this book as a man who is decent and trying to stop a war with Germany, he is a man of his time ,which is between the wars , as is the butler.The writing is wonderful and keeps your interest until the end when I had tears running down.
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on 6 May 2011
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 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 Stevens 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 Stevens has not yet fully revealed.

One thing we learn gradually is that Stevens' 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 Stevens, 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.

Reviewer David Williams maintains a regular blog as Writer in the North.
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