Kazuo Ishiguro is the author who these days is probably best known for his novel, “Never Let Me Go”, due to the film adaptation starring Kiera Knightly and Carey Mulligan. However he has also turned his pen to a myriad of other novels, including “Orphans” “The Unconsoled” and “An Artist of the Floating World”. The novel I have recently read, however, is Ishiguro’s winner of the Booker Prize, “The Remains of the Day”.
My first piece of advice upon picking up this book would be, ‘don’t expect too much to happen.’ I plunged into the first few pages, expecting the twists and turns of hidden revelations. Instead, I was led on a steady path by a high class butler who would never indulge in such nonsense.
The story is told from the point of view of Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall and as I neared the final chapter, I realised that everything the novel had to offer was already there – in his narrative voice. The real beauty of this story is the characterisation. Ishiguro gives himself up completely to the mind of Stevens. His own bias is lost beneath the polished English opinions about ‘loyalty’ and ‘dignity’ given by this representative of the 50s serving order. Indeed, the writing is so authentic that it can at times be frustrating. He writes purely in complex sentences and gives long-winded justifications of all his actions (think Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’). However, this is because Stevens is a frustrating character so to feel irritation is the sacrifice the reader must make to gain access to his mind and yet, as we read on we realise that these frustrating traits are also the novel’s great tragedies, namely his absolute unwillingness to forsake his duty for the sake of his heart.
Ishiguro demonstrates perfect use of the unreliable narrator and while there is little dialogue, it’s not what is said, but rather what isn’t said that speaks volumes. I won’t give you a summary of the plot, because in three lines, I will have given the whole story away and that is for you to discover for yourself, but while it’s true that the plot is brief, it would take numerous pages to summarise the real subtleties of emotions that Ishiguro touches on in this book. Ironically, I read the final chapter as the sun was setting, which gave symbolic meaning to the metaphor that felt to me extremely poignant. It made me instantly want to grab hold of my life and make the most of it before it was drained to its dregs.
Of course, I’m still young and naive, yet to experience life’s great responsibilities and thus sacrifices. Perhaps I should return to this book when I’m in the remains of my life’s day and it will have even more profound effect. For now, however, I speak as a confessional ignorant and passionate 18 year old for whom this book has prompted the resolution to never, ever ignore my heart for the sake of dignity.