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September 11, 2009 / schulerbooks

One Man’s Trash: Bonus Booker-Prize Winning Book Booty Number Two

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I must be a follower of the Booker Prize without having known it. The award has only once been poorly placed in my experience, but its recipients regularly impress me at least a little. It’s like having woken up one morning to find Anne Hathaway brushing her teeth in my bathroom and complaining about my disappointment with Rachel Getting Married. Being a fan of some things can really sneak up on you.

remainsBut hey, the Booker is following me around, because it will find no company in the dozens of reasons that led me to read The Remains of the Day. Reasons like its having a native Japanese author, Anthony Hopkins in the movie version, the guy that plays Mace in Atonement watching it in RocknRolla, and most of all, it’s about a butler. Nobody thinks about the butler. They are one of the most stereotyped (and perhaps accurately, too) groups of people on the planet. Men of such stodginess, they need all the smugness they can muster to compensate for the disrespect doled out to them. What a vicious cycle. Author Kazuo Ishiguro moved to Britain when he was 6, and was maybe overly intrigued by the stolid and starchy collared servants he found there. But whatever his inspiration, he wastes not a paragraph on his take on The English Butler, cracking through the porcelain exterior to show us the human flesh beneath. That’s right. Ew.

The novel is narrated by Stevens (that’s all we get), an English butler who begins his story sharing the challenges of working for a newly arrived American employer in postwar Britain. He’s older now and unpracticed in the informal interaction Mr. Farraday expects from him after having served under an English Lord for the majority of his life. The narrative takes off from there, Mr. Farraday having recommended Stevens take time off as he is out of town. So Stevens makes plans to visit an old colleague, Miss Kenton, and how better to spend time reflecting upon his life in the service of Lord Darlington?

ROOOAADDD TRIIIIIP!

Stevens’ narration is gloriously stuffy. And he delves with such detail into the most tedious matters of his life that it becomes at turns comical and concerning. His preoccupation with improving his witticisms to please Mr. Farraday serves as comic relief alongside his drawn out explanation of dignity. Stevens knows no separation between his private life and his profession. He is able to defend his every action, for every action was in service to his old employer, who he believes beyond a doubt was of the highest order of gentlemen. He recounts even the greatest upheavals of his past with perfect coolness and once, when almost completely overwhelmed in the present, detachedly states his present emotions as if they were an obstacle to the perfect execution of his work.

Ishiguro gives us exactly what we need to hear about butlers, a character we want to mock, pity, revere, befriend, and help. Stevens lives in an environment that makes it hard to know where to draw the line, and out of an incorrigible pride, he decides not to draw one at all. And believe me, the book does not bore. Filled with wartime intrigue, scorching social commentary (‘k, maybe not, but it’s enlightening), and unrequited love, The Remains of the Day stands as a great literary achievement and a profound examination of our spirit to achieve perfect success.

-Patrick, Schuler Books

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