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The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Literary fiction

The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Quick take

What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_WellKnownAuthor

    Famous author

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Unreliable

    Unreliable narrator

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Acclaim

    Critically acclaimed

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NowAMovie

    Now a movie

Synopsis

This is Kazuo Ishiguro's profoundly compelling portrait of Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England. Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the "great gentleman," Lord Darlington. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington's "greatness," and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.

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Get an early look from the first pages of The Remains of the Day.
The Remains of the Day

PROLOGUE: JULY 1956

Darlington Hall

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days. The idea of such a journey came about, I should point out, from a most kind suggestion put to me by Mr Farraday himself one afternoon almost a fortnight ago, when I had been dusting the portraits in the library. In fact, as I recall, I was up on the step-ladder dusting the portrait of Viscount Wetherby when my employer had entered carrying a few volumes which he presumably wished returned to the shelves. On seeing my person, he took the opportunity to inform me that he had just that moment finalized plans to return to the United States for a period of five weeks between August and September. Having made this announcement, my employer put his volumes down on a table, seated himself on the chaise-longue, and stretched out his legs. It was then, gazing up at me, that he said:

‘You realize, Stevens, I don’t expect you to be locked up here in this house all the time I’m away. Why don’t you take the car and drive off somewhere for a few days? You look like you could make good use of a break.’

Coming out of the blue as it did, I did not quite know how to reply to such a suggestion. I recall thanking him for his consideration, but quite probably I said nothing very definite for my employer went on:

‘I’m serious, Stevens. I really think you should take a break. I’ll foot the bill for the gas. You fellows, you’re always locked up in these big houses helping out, how do you ever get to see around this beautiful country of yours?’

This was not the first time my employer had raised such a question; indeed, it seems to be something which genuinely troubles him. On this occasion, in fact, a reply of sorts did occur to me as I stood up there on the ladder; a reply to the effect that those of our profession, although we did not see a great deal of the country in the sense of touring the countryside and visiting picturesque sites, did actually ‘see’ more of England than most, placed as we were in houses where the greatest ladies and gentlemen of the land gathered. Of course, I could not have expressed this view to Mr Farraday without embarking upon what might have seemed a presumptuous speech. I thus contented myself by saying simply:

‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.’

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Why I love it

A good, fulfilling and purposeful life—a life well lived. At the end of the day, isn’t that all anyone wants? If you think an aging English butler would have little to teach you about how to live, you will be very surprised. Perhaps "teach" is not the right word, because we actually learn from his mistakes, subtly revealed as the facade of his perfectly ordered life is slowly pulled away. We see the opportunities he missed. Love lost. Time wasted. All in pursuit of "dignity," to be a loyal employee in service to a set of ideas and principles that, in the end, are not the right ones. And there are powerful lessons in the pain of regret we feel as our butler comes to realize—too late—that he’s been misled. The Remains of the Day is, without doubt, one of those books you must read before you die. More importantly, it is a book you should read with your life still ahead of you.

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Member ratings (1,969)

  • Melanie W.

    WASHINGTON, DC

    A haunting and beautiful portrait of regret, solitude, and unyielding loyalty in post WWII England, impossibly narrated in the voice of an English butler. I’d recommend this selectively—not for all.

  • Shari W.

    Champaign, IL

    What’s it about? Stevens is a perfect English butler whose way of life is disappearing after World War II. He has served Lord Darlington with great loyalty but now he must adjust to a new American e

  • Dacia B.

    Colorado Springs, CO

    I’m going to have to reread this one, there are so many layers that get unpeeled. Really makes you think about what makes your life worth living - even if you look back and all you see are mistakes.

  • Kimberly K.

    Bethel Park, PA

    I loved this book. It is rich in detail as it follows an English butler’s journey across the country as he discovers the past isn’t perfect and there is more to life than being a perfect employee.

  • Jessica H.

    Asheville, NC

    This is probably Ishiguro’s best known work. Somehow, I hadn’t read it, and it lived up to the hype. Reads like a memoir, and delivers the kind of emotional wallop that is his signature. Stunning!

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