Book review: The Remains of the Day

Review of: The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro
Vintage (1990), Edition: Mti Rep, Paperback, 256 pages
(This review contains some spoilers for the book.)

It’s always a shame when they take a book you love and turn it into a terrible movie. But I’ve just now learned that it’s also a little disappointing when you see a wonderful movie and then read the book, only to find that you got more out of the film than you did from reading the book after.

To explain: I adore the Anthony Hopkins/Emma Thompson movie of this book. I think it’s wonderfully directed, the acting is of course superb, and overall it conveys such an intense feeling of loss through inaction, juxtaposed with loss through action, it’s beautiful. So of course I looked forward to the book immensely, and it *is* wonderful, in its way. But I don’t think I savored it as much, even if I hadn’t seen the film already. I already knew where Stevens was going, not just physically but emotionally, or rather not going, becayse his innermost thoughts are conveyed to us from the very first page and were transparent to me. In his pride I could see regret, and in his confidence I saw loneliness. And I think that is what we are meant to take away from Stevens, when we leave him on the pier at the end of the book. Of course knowing that end, from seeing the film, spoiled me — but hearing his voice throughout, I think, tipped me off as well. I didn’t see Stevens the same way.

One theme I picked up more strongly from book, however, was that of choices, inaction vs. action, and the simple fact that no choice is correct while the other is wrong. Lord Darlington tries to take action because he believes he is doing the right thing, but those actions bring about the loss of his dignity and respect. Miss Kenton chooses to act to avoid rejection and loneliness; she does avoid those things, but her path ends up having its own sorrows and hardships. But at the same time our Mr. Stevens takes the other road and does not act, and ends full of regret.

This is the first book of Ishiguro’s that I have read and I enjoyed his writing style hugely. I do not mean to imply that this book is not worth reading, only that I definitely experienced it in the wrong order. Written or shown, there is great nuance, and great subtlety in the way Ishiguro tells a tale; Mr. Stevens and his story could have been created by no other author.

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