First though let's say there's not a lot of plot; this is a character-driven novel. But what a character. Stevens is the butler of a once great English estate, and he tells us his story. In doing so, he becomes the poster child for Unreliable Narrator.
A LitLovers LitPick (Jan '08)
Greeted with high praise in England, where it seems certain to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Ishiguro's third novel (after An Artist of the Floating World ) is a tour de force-- both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order. Stevens, an elderly butler who has spent 30 years in the service of Lord Darlington, ruminates on the past and inadvertently slackens his rigid grip on his emotions to confront the central issues of his life. Glacially reserved, snobbish and humorless, Stevens has devoted his life to his concept of duty and responsibility, hoping to reach the pinnacle of his profession through totally selfless dedication and a ruthless suppression of sentiment. Having made a virtue of stoic dignity, he is proud of his impassive response to his father's death and his "correct" behavior with the spunky former housekeeper, Miss Kenton. Ishiguro builds Stevens's character with precisely controlled details, creating irony as the butler unwittingly reveals his pathetic self-deception. In the poignant denouement, Stevens belatedly realizes that he has wasted his life in blind service to a foolish man and that he has never discovered "the key to human warmth." ... This insightful, often humorous and moving novel should significantly enhance Ishiguro's reputation here.
The Remains of the Day is a dream of a book: a beguiling comedy of manners that evolves almost magically into a profound and heart-rending study of personality, class and culture.... Stevens plays perfectly the role of model butler as obliging narrator.... .Underneath what Stevens says, something else is being said, and the something else eventually turns out to be a moving series of chilly revelations of the butler's buried life - and, by implication, a powerful critique of the social machine in which he is a cog. As we [progress on the trip] with Stevens, we learn more and more about the price he has paid in striving for his lofty ideal of professional greatness.
Lawrence Graver - New York Times Book Review
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