I’d heard excellent things about this book, but even so, I wasn’t quite prepared to love it as much as I did.
The setting of the novel is officially in the 1950s, but most of the action takes place in the main character’s memories – in the 1920s and 1930. Stevens, the butler in Darlington Hall, pays little attention to the Germanophile politics of the master he serves.
The Remains of a Day is short, and therefore it allows one to appreciate the gentle nuances in subject and tone throughout the whole. It reminds me of a perfectly executed piano concerto – there is so much balance and harmony between the different plotlines The unreliable first-person narration creates a tension between appearance and reality, which is reminiscent of the role perception plays in our experience of life. Last but not least, Remains of a Day is not simply a sentimental story about the mistakes we must pay for throughout our lives, but also a comedy of manners. And in all this, it is exceedingly subtle.
Stevens’s is obsessed with being the perfect butler – and his soliloquies on the subject of ‘dignity’ are at times amusing, at times simply too disturbing to be contemplated. It is entertaining to watch him deceive himself as to the true nature of his feelings – until we realize with some bitterness that one practices the same kind of self-deception on oneself.
In short, this is definitely the best work by Ishiguro that I have read so far. And it is a masterpiece in its own right.