11 July 2019

Notes on 'The Remains of the Day'

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International, 1988.

Now and then a companion catches me in a sudden shift of mood, after which they take it as their responsibility to turn things around. I hate when this happens. One, I don't like my emotions expressing themselves without my permission; two, I don't like bothering anyone with my trivial emotions; three, I just want to be happy.

Stevens may have the same betrayal of the body that late afternoon on a pier at Weymouth. He has spent all his life in total control — of the Darlington Hall, of his career as a butler, of his feelings — only to cry in front of a total stranger as he reflects:
I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now — well — I find I do not have a great deal more left to give.

Since my new employer Mr Farraday arrived, I've tried very hard, very hard indeed, to provide the sort of service I would like him to have. I tried and tried but whatever I do I find I am far from reaching the standards I once set myself. More and more errors are appearing in my work.

Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really — one has to ask oneself — what dignity is there in that? (pp 242 – 243)
But is it regret, I wonder, that pushes his tears? Has he really lost opportunities when his pleasure is to be of service, and his pride, to serve well a worthy man? This internal climax of self-discovery (or disruption) unfolds at the very last pages of The Remains of the Day. And the book's physical weight has never enhanced my reading experience like before.

Like an object dropped to the ground, the story moves in accelerating speed. It starts off with Stevens taking a holiday trip to meet a Miss Kenton. A reunion in the immediate future has been suspended for two hundred pages. As he nears his destination, his mind goes back to the height of his profession. Also, he revisits his thoughts on dignity, which is tightly intertwined with memories of his father.

Only in the final chapter do Stevens and Miss Kenton come face-to-face in the present; though we have already learned of their characters and intimate history through Stevens' recollections. Like the efficient domestic servants that they are, they close a door left open far too long. When they finally do, we have enough backstory to cry with them, despite how little they've told each other.

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