The Remains of the Day

Ishiguro’s books are always simple creatures. I think the secret to his success is that he is a storyteller (not all writers are, after all). And, of course, the expertise with which he constructs those stories is incredible.

He once compared aspects of his work to expressionist art, in which all things are distorted to reflect the emotion of the artist who is looking at the world – “the whole world portrayed in that book starts to tilt and bend in an attempt to orchestrate an alternate kind of logic”. Ishiguro’s protagonists aren’t unreliable narrators; they are simply human. Their memories are distorted and have faded with time, but that happens to be his talent: the ability to create – and capture –  the thoughts and consciousness of a fictitious character.

Despite this artful genius, and the fact that I do like Ishiguro very deep down, he seems to be a one-song songbird. Crudely put, he’s a one-trick pony, and a rather pompous one at that. Perhaps he himself felt it eventually, and works such as The Unconsoled and Nocturnes are the resulting experiments. Somehow, the one that won the Booker has left me feeling more disenchanted than Orphans did.  I suppose Remains of the Day is all the more disappointing because of the very fact that it won such a prestigious prize, despite being of the same timbre as every single one of his other novels that I’ve read to date. No, no that’s all wrong. Remains was written before all those other novels, so what I’m really disappointed at is the fact that he hasn’t bothered to challenge himself after the Booker.

Now that’s not to say that his books are mediocre or terrible. Far from it; in fact, all his works – regardless of whether they stick to the same-old-same-old or not – have a way of resonating with the reader.  Remains of the Day is extremely poignant. The butler epitomizes the end of an era; as he faces the remains of the day, it is not only the set tingof his own life that he faces, but that of one of the greatest ‘suns’ history has seen – the grand and glorious British Empire.

Am I too picky? Probably. Yet it’s Ishiguro who has set the bar  (too) high for himself, and if he can’t jump over it , then that’s not my problem. But I’ll have to read Nocturnes to find out.

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8 thoughts on “The Remains of the Day

  1. I really loved this but can understand why you didn’t. I think it’s time for a reread for me. Also want to reread The Unconsoled, and have Nocturnes and Orphans on the tbr. Eager to know how you’ll view Nocturnes. Are you going to read all his books?

    1. Yes, I am actually! I’ve been meaning to read his earlier books for a while (esp. the artist one); just haven’t gotten around to it. Also quite curious about The Unconsoled, and Nocturnes.

      p.s. I’ve been enjoying reading about your Proust experience. Need to get my hands on a copy soon…

  2. I haven’t read this author yet, but I still haven’t forgot your glowing review of the first book of his you read. It’s too bad this one was disappointing, Booker taken in to account. Do we just expect more when it has the prize on it?

    1. Definitely! Prize = prestige, at least to me.
      Hmm I’m not sure if I would recommend Ishiguro. He does seem to be one of those authors people either love or just feel indifferent towards… A safe investment, hahah.

  3. I have only read Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro (and I actually didn’t like that all that much), but I got this one for super cheap so I intend to read it some day. Based on your review though, I’m not sure why you seem compelled to keep reading the man since he seems to keep disappointing you! I think that if I read and dislike Remains of the Day, that will be it for me. Even if he is a much-lauded writer, I’m ok with steering clear of him if it turns out he just isn’t my thing.

    Beautiful review, by the way!

    1. Well, I just remember being impressed by his style the first time round. Perhaps part of it was me overinterpreting something that didn’t exist. Minimalism, and all that – so very open to interpretation.

      I’m not sure why I keep reading him either! I think it might be because I’m fascinated by the author more than the novels. Well, more the author’s relationship to the works they produce. If that makes any sense at all. I get these sorts of obsessions. For the last few years it was Woolf. Incidentally, I read Remains of the Day because I also bought it for super-cheap and it felt like a waste not to. But now I think I’m interested in how his style develops (or, you know, doesn’t develop) over time.

      I’m rambling again :)

  4. The Remains of the Day explores of the sensation of memory that is forgone, memory that is only embedded in the mind. I resonate with Stevens’ rhetorical inquiry of what makes a great butler, which demands formal and proper diction that Ishiguro always exemplifies, mandates a dignity that suppresses Stevens’ individuality. Ishiguro is a genius.

    1. Matt, hahah, sorry to disappoint you! I haven’t been reading much at all lately. Or at least, I haven’t been posting on what I’ve been reading.

      Hmm, I don’t know if I would go so far as to call Ishiguro a genius. Certainly, he is skilled with words, but that’s a trait all writers should possess. How far have our standards fallen if we have become so complacent in accepting whatever writers feed us? Personally, I think Ishiguro’s gotten too complacent himself; he’s got a bit of the old J K Rowling syndrome…

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