Happy September! For many, today means back to school. For me, it means reminiscing about going back to school. Luckily, Random House Canada’s The Remains of the Day readalong corresponds with the first day of school, so today I am feeling all the excitement of going back to school, reading on a schedule, and writing responses to the text I just read. I don’t know if this is incredibly nerdy of me, but I find this whole process so exciting and invigorating.
I have never read anything by Kazuo Ishiguro before, but I’ve heard so many great things. I actually have a copy of Never Let Me Go waiting to be read on my shelf (bless/curse that too-long TBR!) and I’m hoping I’ll love The Remains of the Day enough to make me want to dive right into that next. I don’t have too strong of an opinion of the novel yet, but I will say that it’s off to a wonderful start.
The book jacket summarizes the story as such:
“The Remains of the Day is a spell-binding portrayal of a vanished way of life and a haunting meditation on the high cost of duty. It is also one of the most subtle, sad and humorous love stories ever written. It is the summer of 1956, when Stevens, a man who has dedicated himself to his career as a perfect butler in the one-time great house of Darlington Hall, sets off on a holiday that will take him deep into the English countryside and unexpectedly into his own past, especially his friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. As memories surface of his life “in service” to Lord Darlington, and of a mysterious time between the wars when the fate of the continent seemed to lie in the hands of a few men, he finds himself confronting the dark undercurrent beneath the carefully run world of his employer.”
The part that we read for today was the Prologue to Day One: Evening. This part sets up the story and details the motivation behind Stevens’ trip. Stevens has served at Darlington Hall as a butler for many years and hasn’t been able to see much of the country. Knowing this, his new American employer, Mr. Farraday, suggests that he gets out of the house for a few days while he is away on a trip to America. Stevens is initially hesitant, but after Mr. Farraday offers him his Ford and gas money plus the arrival of a letter from a past co-worker Miss Kenton, the dutiful and traditional Stevens decides to take the trip.
It’s interesting to note that though the story takes place in 1956, the tone of the novel seems very Victorian. When I first started reading the novel I had to check back to make sure I wasn’t reading something from the 1800s as Stevens, who narrates the novel, speaks in a very antiquated way. This, I suppose, is to emphasize just how bound in tradition Stevens is. He tells us that he has “a reluctance to change too much of the old ways” (7) and this really shows when we hear him constantly reminisce about the days where Darlington Hall was run by Lord Darlington and not the relaxed Mr. Farraday. Stevens does realize, however, that “there is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake” (7) so he tries (but fails) to adapt to his new employer’s bantering and casual way of speaking. Stevens seems to be a bit over-analytical and over-proper for his own good, but I took an instant liking to him. I guess, as someone who is a tad over-analytical myself, I identified with his constant doubting and so I find it endearing in him. I am really looking forward to see if he loosens up a little during his trip. There is a lot of room for character development and already we have had the satisfaction of seeing Stevens go out of his comfort zone and reap the benefits of it. I hope we will see a lot more of this as the book progresses!
I have a soft spot for classics, so this book fits right into my reading tastes. It’s a little strange for me to feel like I’m reading something so old when, in fact, the book was published in 1989, but I’m really enjoying the book so far. I will say that the writing does take a bit to get into due to its Victorian-esque tone, but once you get the hang of it it is a quick read. One thing that did slow my reading down a bit is the slight tangent Stevens takes when he starts talking about what constitutes a “great” butler at the end of “Day One: Evening.” I found this section quite essay-like and though I’m curious to see what the significance of this passage is and whether Stevens will think differently later on in the book, it did make the book feel a little academic rather than a piece of fiction (though I will stress that there’s nothing wrong with that!).
All in all, this was a great start to my first read-through of The Remains of the Day and though I don’t know exactly where the plot is headed –much like Stevens– I’m very happy to stay along for the ride.
Are you participating in the Remains Reread? Have you read The Remains of the Day before? What did you think of the book/this part?