It is cited as a modern classic, ranks high on most literary best-books lists and won The Man Booker Prize when it came out in 1989: The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, faced high expectations—and delivered.
The novel is set in the 1950s. One of the last members of a dying profession, the proper English butler, faces a road trip that will take him away from his employer’s estate for the first time. Mr. Stevens’ master of many years has died a few years before, and his new master, an American gentleman, has upset and confounded Mr. Stevens’ well-settled methods. The novel presents an unusual point of view: An elderly man, a thoughtful and careful man, will, for perhaps the first time, actually engage in self-awareness, casting his first critical eye on his own long life.
What emerges is a masterpiece of subtlety, as the author uses the unreliable narrator, fragmented memories and progressive revelation to demonstrate how this dignified man has been deluding himself, subverting his own doubts and burying his own desires for decades.
Remains of the Day was very well received by the Book Club. We found much to discuss in detail, covering all the major themes of the work—dignity, the subversion of self to social constraints, dubious politics, loyalty, memory, facing one’s own failings, making connections with other people, the role of simple social interactions in giving life meaning and perspective, and more. We discussed how the narrator’s self-delusions and subversions of his own will make him blind to his own doubts, leading to painful revelations when those doubts are laid bare.
We explored how, by having the narrator pick through the same issue across multiple domains of his life (personal, professional, political), the author was able to add shading and complexity to both the narrator and his deficiencies. Seeming inconsistencies proved to be revelatory when exposed from multiple angles in this way. As one might expect with such a book, our discussions were also subtle and nuanced, as the impressive depth of the story was revealed piece by piece.
Next month we try our hand at historical fiction, looking at the life of Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon, through Philipa Gregory’s novel The Constant Princess. See our website, rhml.lib.mo.us, for our reading picks up through July.
The Richmond Heights Memorial Library Book Club meets from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at , 8001 Dale Ave. Please join us!
Scott Bonner is the adult services librarian at the Richmond Heights Memorial Library. Each month, he shares highlights of recent discussion by the library's Book Club and previews the coming selection.