Reading List #6 — The Remains of the Day

Here are my notes on The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

I recently did a presentation project about The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is on my reading list — two birds with one stone and all that. This novel is a heavily internal narrative centered on an English butler named Stevens, an artifact out of the early 1900’s. It’s a first-person frame story told from Stevens’ perspective — the outside narrative, the present day, frames forays into the past that are brought on by Stevens’ memories of his younger days. In the present day, Stevens, with the excuse of wanting to hire a new person for the staff of Darlington Hall, is traveling to meet Miss Kenton, a woman from his past that we gather has worked at Darlington Hall before.

When I first opened the book, I thought I was going to be bored to tears. It’s the recount of the life and love of a stuffy English butler. I mean, yawn, right? But as I kept reading, I noticed that I was still reading. The tension at work in this book between the Stevens of the present and the Stevens of the past drives the story so that I wasn’t actually bored at all. Plus, there are actual exciting things that happen, usually involving the tendency of the author to poke fun at Stevens’ character even though Stevens himself doesn’t realize it.

From a craft perspective, here are my notes. Ishiguro does a FANTASTIC job at characterization. The way that we can look at Stevens through his perspective and see things about him that he doesn’t even recognize about himself. The way Ishiguro pulls this off is to juxtapose events with the way Stevens things about them, such that we can see the discrepancies in his perspective.

Something else I’m taking away from this as far as craft goes is the easy way in which Ishiguro creates this world of butlers and underbutlers and English gentlemen that we are so completely and easily absorbed by. He makes me believe in these people and this world, and while I know that creating a fantasy universe from scratch (which is what I’m doing for my thesis) is a completely different beast, I appreciate when an author can create their own version of places and characters that still requires a bit of that suspension of disbelief to immerse yourself. Despite Stevens’ unreliability, I fell for these characters and for the world they inhabit.

Next: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.

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