Review: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Loyalty is the topic that sits at the very heart of this Booker Prize winning novel from Kazuo Ishiguro. The year is 1956. Stevens has been the head butler at Darlington Hall, a large and prestigious estate in the United Kingdom that has recently been purchased by--gasp--an American. England is slowly changing, with less wealth and aristocratic families and even Darlington Hall is now a shadow of the great estate that it used to be, with just handful of servants. Stevens' employer, Mr Farraday, urges him to take a holiday and offers him the use of his vehicle. Soon Stevens finds himself travelling through England as he reminisces about the days gone by--and the important events and opportunities for happiness that passed him by out of a misguided sense of loyalty and duty to his employer, a man who was not on the right side of history.

Gently written, this was a beautiful novel about a seemingly prestigious career and the sacrifices one man made, partly through fear and partly through his misguided sense of duty. It is heartbreaking to watch his friendship with Miss Kenton never develop as it should, in spite of the many hints that she gives, and the fact that he is clearly just as keen, but doesn't quite seem to know what to do about it. Heartbreaking, but in a different way, is how he doesn't speak up when he could have, over the sacking of two jewish maids, or his employer's involvement with Nazi sympathisers. Eventually, and realistically, though, Stevens is left to ponder and question some of the things that he has done with his life, and how he will live out the remainder of his days. 

I very much enjoyed reading this novel and its depiction of England in a time of social change, and the various challenges met by Stevens, whether it be his confusion over banter (or more specifically, how to deliver it,) duty/loyalty and social constraints.

Highly recommended.


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