Remains of the Day (Ishiguro)

The Remains of the Day 
Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989
Knopf Doubleday
256 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780679731726

Winner, 1989 Man Booker Prize
Winner, 2017 Nobel Prize

The novel The Remains of the Day tells the story of Stevens, an English butler who dedicates his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington (mentioned in increasing detail in flashbacks).

The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from an ex co-worker called Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at her unhappy marriage. Stevens' new employer, Mr. Farraday, who Stevens fails to hold in high esteem, then grants permission for Stevens to borrow the car to take a break.

As he sets out on the motoring trip and meets the long since retired housekeeper, Miss Kenton, he ponders (via numerous flashbacks) his previous actions and his feelings of love for Miss Kenton, which she silently reciprocated. Both characters failed to ever fully admit their true feelings for one another. Arguably this is due to the lack of communication between the pair; throughout the flashbacks, the majority of their interactions are through conflict and confrontation.

Many of Stevens' memories are biased, leaving the reader with the impression that he is an unreliable narrator. Yet throughout the novel, he prides himself on his attention to detail, which leads the reader to believe that Stevens deliberately mis-remembers or alters his recollections so that they cast him in a better light. These purposefully altered memories support what he wants to believe, that there is still a chance for him and Miss Kenton. (From Wikipedia.)

Author Bio
Birth—November 8, 1954
Where—Nagasaki, Japan
Raised—England, UK
Education—B.A., University of Kent (UK); M.A., University of East Anglia
Awards—Nobel Prize, (more below)
Currently—lives in London, England

Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist. Born in Nagasaki, Japan, his family moved to England in 1960 when he was five. Ishiguro obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Kent in 1978 and his Master's from the University of East Anglia's creative-writing course in 1980.

Ishiguro is one of the most celebrated contemporary fiction authors in the English-speaking world, having received four Man Booker Prize nominations, and winning the 1989 award for his novel The Remains of the Day. In 2008, The Times ranked Ishiguro 32nd on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945."

Early life and career
Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki on 8 November 1954, the son of Shizuo Ishiguro, a physical oceanographer, and his wife Shizuko. In 1960 his family, including his two sisters, moved to Guildford, Surrey so that his father could begin research at the National Institute of Oceanography. He attended Stoughton Primary School and then Woking County Grammar School in Surrey. After finishing school he took a gap year and traveled through the United States and Canada, while writing a journal and sending demo tapes to record companies.

In 1974 he began at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and he graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in English and Philosophy. After spending a year writing fiction, he resumed his studies at the University of East Anglia where he studied with Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter, and gained a Master of Arts in Creative Writing in 1980. He became a British citizen in 1982.

He co-wrote four of the songs on jazz singer Stacey Kent's 2009 Breakfast on the Morning Tram. He also wrote the liner notes to Kent's 2003 album, In Love Again.

Literary characteristics
A number of his novels are set in the past. His 2005 novel, Never Let Me Go, has science fiction qualities and a futuristic tone; however, it is set in the 1980s and 1990s, and thus takes place in a very similar yet alternate world. His fourth novel, The Unconsoled (1995), takes place in an unnamed Central European city. The Remains of the Day  (1989)is set in the large country house of an English lord in the period surrounding World War II.

An Artist of the Floating World (1986) is set in an unnamed Japanese city during the period of reconstruction following Japan's surrender in 1945. The narrator is forced to come to terms with his part in World War II. He finds himself blamed by the new generation who accuse him of being part of Japan's misguided foreign policy and is forced to confront the ideals of the modern times as represented by his grandson. Ishiguro said of his choice of time period, "I tend to be attracted to pre-war and postwar settings because I’m interested in this business of values and ideals being tested, and people having to face up to the notion that their ideals weren’t quite what they thought they were before the test came."

HIs novels are usually written in the first-person narrative style and the narrators often exhibit human failings. Ishiguro's technique is to allow these characters to reveal their flaws implicitly during the narrative. The author thus creates a sense of pathos by allowing the reader to see the narrator's flaws while being drawn to sympathize with the narrator as well. This pathos is often derived from the narrator's actions, or, more often, inaction. In The Remains of the Day, the butler Stevens fails to act on his romantic feelings toward housekeeper Miss Kenton because he cannot reconcile his sense of service with his personal life.

Ishiguro's novels often end without any sense of resolution. The issues his characters confront are buried in the past and remain unresolved. Thus Ishiguro ends many of his novels on a note of melancholic resignation. His characters accept their past and who they have become, typically discovering that this realization brings comfort and an ending to mental anguish. This can be seen as a literary reflection on the Japanese idea of mono no aware.

Ishiguro was born in Japan and has a Japanese name (the characters in the surname Ishiguro mean 'stone' and 'black' respectively). He set his first two novels in Japan; however, in several interviews he has had to clarify to the reading audience that he has little familiarity with Japanese writing and that his works bear little resemblance to Japanese fiction. In a 1990 interview he said, "If I wrote under a pseudonym and got somebody else to pose for my jacket photographs, I'm sure nobody would think of saying, 'This guy reminds me of that Japanese writer.'"

Although some Japanese writers have had a distant influence on his writing— un'ichirō Tanizaki is the one he most frequently cites—Ishiguro has said that Japanese films, especially those of Yasujirō Ozu and Mikio Naruse, have been a more significant influence.

Ishiguro left Japan in 1960 at the age of 5 and did not return to visit until 1989, nearly 30 years later, as a participant in the Japan Foundation Short-Term Visitors Program. In an interview with Kenzaburo Oe, Ishiguro acknowledged that the Japanese settings of his first two novels were imaginary:

I grew up with a very strong image in my head of this other country, a very important other country to which I had a strong emotional tie[...]. In England I was all the time building up this picture in my head, an imaginary Japan.

When discussing his Japanese heritage and its influence on his upbringing, the author has stated

I’m not entirely like English people because I’ve been brought up by Japanese parents in a Japanese-speaking home. My parents didn’t realize that we were going to stay in this country for so long, they felt responsible for keeping me in touch with Japanese values. I do have a distinct background. I think differently, my perspectives are slightly different.

When asked to what extent he identifies as either Japanese or English the author insists

People are not two-thirds one thing and the remainder something else. Temperament, personality, or outlook don’t divide quite like that. The bits don’t separate clearly. You end up a funny homogeneous mixture. This is something that will become more common in the latter part of the century—people with mixed cultural backgrounds, and mixed racial backgrounds. That’s the way the world is going.

Ishiguro has been married to Lorna MacDougall, a social worker, since 1986. They met at the West London Cyrenians homelessness charity in Notting Hill, where Ishiguro was working as a residential resettlement worker. They have a daughter and live in London.

Awards and recognition
1982: Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize (A Pale View of Hills)
1983: Named a Granta Best Young British Novelist
1986: Whitbread Prize (An Artist of the Floating World)
1989: Booker Priz (The Remains of the Day)
1993: Named a Granta Best Young British Novelist
1995: Order of the British Empire (OBE)
1998: Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2005: Never Let Me Go: listed in "100 greatest English language novels since 1923 the magazine formed in 1923"—Time magazine.
2008: Listed in "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945"—The Times (London)
2017: Nobel Prize for Literature

Except for A Pale View of Hills, all of Ishiguro's novels and his short story collection have been shortlisted for major awards. Most significantly, An Artist of the Floating World, When We Were Orphans, and Never Let Me Go, were all short-listed for the Booker Prize. A leaked account of a judging committee's meeting revealed that the committee found itself deciding between Never Let Me Go and John Banville's The Sea before awarding the prize to Banville.

1982 - A Pale View of Hills
1986 - An Artist of the Floating World
1989 - The Remains of the Day
1995 - The Unconsoled
2000 - When We Were Orphans
2005 - Never Let Me Go
2009 - Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
2015 - The Buried Giant
(Author bio adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/17/2015.)

Book Reviews 
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 is a tour de force-- both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order.… This insightful, often humorous and moving novel should significantly enhance Ishiguro's reputation here.
Publishers Weekly

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

Discussion Questions 
1. What does Stevens care most deeply about? Can you articulate a world view for him?

2. Consider the decisions Stevens makes during time of his father's death, as well as the dismissal of the two Jewish servants. Where do Stevens's ethical responsibilities lie — given his time in history and place in society?

3. Talk about is the social hierarchy to which Stevens is completely loyal—yet which exploits him thoroughly.

4. And, of course, poor Miss Kenton. Would she ever have been happy with Stevens? Or could she have humanized him had she persisted and won him over? Oh...and what about the fact that she never left when she was forced to dismiss the two Jewish maids? Is she as culpable as Stevens in this matter? What would most of us do in her place?

5. This novel is famous for its "unreliable narrator," meaning that Stevens who tells the story colors a great deal in his telling. He seems blind to much that goes on around him, events that we, the readers, see and judge differently than Stevens seems to. Give some examples of Steves's inability to see things as readers see them. What blinds Steven, or gets in his way of understanding, especially when it comes to Lord Darlington.

6. You might also tackle the ending. What happens to Stevens after he leaves Miss Kenton? What does he come to understand, what insights has he gained? Will he change—indeed, is he capable of change?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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