Kazuo Ishiguro's 1989 Booker prize-winning novel, The Remains of the Day, is a book I've wanted to read for a long time, but I knew it's mood was somber and so felt I had to wait for the right time to read it. Thankfully that time was this summer--it did help that it made it onto my TBR Pile Challenge list, so I was committed to reading it this year.
The Remains of the Day was an extremely interesting book structurally. While it's pretty obvious that it is a eulogy to the British Empire--the land of stiff upper lips and knowing one's place--I thought it significant that the narrator, Mr. Stevens, an old school butler who could've taught Mr Carson of Downton Abbey a thing or two about protocol, remembers his life and comes to terms with his past choices, current situation, and probable future whilst on a journey.
In a way, Mr Stevens is literally driving down memory lane, and I loved the way the story of his life and times at Darlington Hall, serving Lord Darlington in the years between WWI and WWII unfolded sporadically. At times it felt like Stevens was withholding key details, but I think rather it was a realistic portrayal of the way most people remember events and emotions and finally admit things about them to themselves--in fragments, at times defiant, at times defensive, at times apologetic, at times brutal.
I have to admit that my heart just about broke for Miss Kenton, the housekeeper who left Darlington Hall many years ago and to whom Mr Stevens is going to visit. It is truly horrible to be in the situation where you feel you cannot follow your conscience (in this case, protesting the firing of two Jewish maids simply because they were Jewish) because you have absolutely no resources with which to live without your job. I was appalled by the callousness of Mr Stevens joking with her about her lack of conviction in following through with her threat to leave Darlington Hall over the firing.
Until the very end, I thought this one of the saddest books I had ever read...and then the author explained the title. The end of day is really the time of day most people look forward to all day long. Most people work all day, but at the end of the day, they can relax, spend time with the people they care for, pursue interests and hobbies, or simply enjoy the fading light and cooling air or the warm glow of home and hearth. So too with a life--we work our entire lives, and near the end can retire to enjoy the remains of one's life. The remains of the day, the remains of one's life, can be a time of contentment, a time to look forward to, a time to put away cares, regrets, false promises and simply enjoy one's time left on earth.
I found in this idea an expression of great hope and joy--simple joy. The joy of a beautiful sunset, a soft breeze, a kind word, a helping hand. Mr Stevens had to journey into his past in order to face the remains of his day without regret but with joy.
Perhaps, then... I should cease looking back so much, that I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of the remains of my day. After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives had not turned out quite as we might have wished?
I never expected to get such a profound idea from this book--what a gift.
And now, I can finally watch the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.