Why do we fall, Alfred?

This is my review of The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

I’ve never actually met a butler, or know anyone who has. Still, the stereotypes surrounding the profession are familiar to anyone who reads fiction. The ever elegant Jeeves, the wise Alfred, the impeccably trained Butlers of the Artemis Fowl series, they all fit the dignified, reserved image.

This novel is from the point of view of Stevens, head butler at Darlington Hall. Much to his disappointment, the mansion was bought by an American gentleman after World War II, and is being run with a fraction of its original support staff. He reminisces about the glory days of the Hall, when its influential owner held meetings of international importance under the guise of house parties.

Stevens believes that the foremost responsibility of a butler is to maintain dignity and composure. However, his facade soon cracks as he remembers his father’s death and the loss of a good ”friend”, Miss Kenton, while on a road trip through England. Ishiguro deftly reveals deeper layers of the butler’s character through the course of the novel (like peeling an onion?). Stevens is the definition of an unreliable narrator however, he is reluctant to speak ill of his employers, and rarely indicates his true feelings on any matter.

Kazuo Ishiguro uses a slow, descriptive writing style, similar to his other hit, Never Let Me Go. The voice of Stevens is stilted, formal, and touching, and exactly what one would expect from a butler! It is painful to see him distance himself from Miss Kenton- though whether this is out of professionalism or sheer obliviousness is unclear. At under 200 pages, there is hardly an unnecessary word.

This book was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, proof that it is a true masterpiece. Read this if you appreciate books with subtlety and beautiful prose. This book is sure to become a classic, at least in English Lit classes. 4/5 from me.

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