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The Remains of the Day summary

Kazuo Ishiguro

Echoes of Grandeur and Heartache Resonate Through a Stately Home

4.1 (105 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a poignant novel that follows Stevens, a butler, as he reflects on his life and grapples with the consequences of devotion and duty.

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    The Remains of the Day
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    A change of scenery

    When we first meet Stevens, the fastidious butler who is also the novel’s narrator, it’s the 1950s. Stevens is in the library at Darlington Hall, a stately home in the South of England. More precisely, he stands halfway up a step-ladder, dusting a portrait of one Viscount Wetherby. 

    Stevens is interrupted by his employer Mr Farraday, who informs him that he’ll be spending five weeks in the United States. Farraday suggests Stevens take advantage of his absence to have a holiday himself. 

    Farraday is American, and Stevens feels Farraday doesn’t always grasp what the “done thing” is in England. A butler borrowing his employer's car for a holiday is, in Stevens's opinion, very much not the done thing. But the arrival of a letter from Miss Kenton, former housekeeper at Darlington Hall, is enough to change his mind. Miss Kenton now lives in Cornwall and has invited Stevens to visit. Stevens starts to form a plan. 

    In its pre-World War II glory days, when Lord Darlington still owned the house, Darlington Hall employed a full staff of servants. Currently, there are only four people on staff and Stevens is acutely aware that understaffing prevents him from delivering the standard of service he would like – the strain shows in “small but telling” ways. Consulting maps and travel books from the library, Stevens plots a route through Devon and Cornwall that will eventually take him to Weymouth where Miss Kenton now lives. Here, he decides, he will ask her to resume her post as housekeeper. 

    Stevens sets out in Farraday’s car, and at first, he feels a sense of alarm at leaving Darlington Hall and its familiar environment. But soon he is impressed, even exhilarated, by the surrounding landscape. Enjoying a particularly fine view, he finds himself thinking that the English countryside has an understated greatness that other, more superficially dramatic landscapes cannot approach. As he drives, he reflects on his years in the service industry, and how the role of the butler has changed over his lifetime. Stevens recalls his father’s own tales of life in service as a butler, and the examples of dignity they conveyed. In one tale, a butler to an English family in India found a tiger under the dining table. He soberly informed his employer that dinner service would be slightly delayed, before shooting the animal, removing its carcass, and setting the table for the evening meal. This kind of unflappable dignity, Stevens thinks, is the mark of a truly great butler.   

    ANALYSIS

    The butler Stevens is both protagonist and narrator of the novel, and he spends much of the narrative reflecting on his past experiences. In particular, he meditates on his life in service and how the nature of service has changed in the shifting cultural landscape of interwar England. Like his reflections on the landscape, Stevens's reflections on dignity and service are intertwined with his sense of what it means to be English. A great butler, thinks Stevens, one that truly possesses dignity, is bound to be an Englishman. Being in the presence of an accomplished English butler is like taking in the sweep of England’s finest countryside – one simply knows, thinks Stevens, that one is in the presence of greatness. The personal restraint on which Stevens prides himself is reflected in his admiration for the restrained beauty of the English countryside.

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    What is The Remains of the Day about?

    The Remains of the Day (1989) features one of contemporary literature’s most unforgettable narrators, Stevens, a butler who reminisces on his life in service at one of England’s stately homes in the years leading up to World War II. 

    The Remains of the Day Review

    The Remains of the Day (1989) by Kazuo Ishiguro and Chris Rice is a poignant novel that explores themes of loyalty, regret, and self-discovery. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With its nuanced characters and complex relationships, the book offers a deep insight into the human condition.
    • Set against the backdrop of post-World War II England, it examines the class dynamics and social hierarchy of the time.
    • Through its subtle prose and understated storytelling, the book evokes a sense of nostalgia and introspection that keeps readers captivated until the very end.

    Who should read The Remains of the Day?

    • Fans of contemporary literature
    • History lovers interested in a literary take on the interwar years in England
    • Period drama devotees seeking a look at life in a stately home

    About the Author

    Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist celebrated for his subtle, introspective style. His novel The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize. In 2017 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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    The Remains of the Day FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Remains of the Day?

    The main message of The Remains of the Day is the power of personal reflection and the consequences of self-restraint.

    How long does it take to read The Remains of the Day?

    The reading time for The Remains of the Day can vary, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Remains of the Day a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Remains of the Day is a thought-provoking and beautifully written book that is definitely worth your time.

    Who is the author of The Remains of the Day?

    The author of The Remains of the Day is Kazuo Ishiguro.

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