Friday, February 24, 2012

Just Finished: The Remains of the Day

"Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?"

This line sums up Mr. Stevens, the narrator of Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. Stevens is a  traditional English butler facing the changing world of postwar Britain. When his new American boss encourages him to take time off, Stevens embarks on a road trip through the countryside and through his past.

As Stevens meticulously reminisces about his life in Darlington Hall, he recounts the honor of serving the great Lord Darlington through the trials and aftermath of war. Stevens sets himself up as indispensable to the Lord who in turn played an imperative role in securing peace for the entire European continent.

But even as he prides himself on being a high caliber butler, maybe even comparable to the greatest, Stevens shoots holes through his own stories as he allows subtle doubt in about the small world he has dedicated himself to--the way he mostly ignored his own father's fatal illness as it coincided with an important meeting at Darlington or the anti-semitic turnings of his master.

Interwoven through all his memories is his relationship with Miss Kenton, the head housemaid, with whom Stevens was clearly enamored. In fact, Stevens is driving to see the now married Miss Kenton, harboring hopes he cannot admit to himself.

Like many of Ishiguro's narrators, one must question their reliability, and Stevens is no different. The above quote spoken by Miss Kenton is crucial to understanding him. Ishiguro masters this character through his  verbose recollections and obsessive details through which he hides truth within propriety, custom and the pride of his position. Nothing is exactly as it seems because Stevens pretends to everyone, especially himself. Also like Ishiguro's novels there are peculiar situations that don't ever seem to line up.

The Remains of the Day is my third Ishiguro novel and ranks somewhere in the middle with Never Let Me Go by far my favorite and When We Were Orphans one of the worst books I've ever read. Ishiguro's genius in creating his characters here resulted in exhausting paragraphs of skim-able information, but it effectively made Stevens' character and causes the reader to reflect on the veracity of the truth of their own actions and memories.

Read and judge for yourself.

No comments: