This was yet another reread for me; over time you’ll see how frequently I tend to revisit the books I really love. I was inspired to give this another go because I had just watched the film for the first time last week, and wanted to research its level of accuracy as compared to the novel (rating: very accurate indeed!). Also, this past fall I read another novel by Ishiguro which I found to be so terribly disappointing; I wanted to restore my faith in him as a novelist. The Remains of the Day did just that, and thank god.
The writing is just as absorbing and engrossing as I remembered, and the book as a whole was infinitely sadder. This opinion may have something to do with the fact that I first read the novel on a sunny beach in Florida, which is very weird — The Remains of the Day is not a beachy sort of book at all. I think it’s easy to read, as all beach-type books should be, but its plot is not particularly fluffy or fun the way most beach books are. Then again, the idea of pigeonholing books into categories of where they should or should not be read seems entirely ridiculous. (Also ridiculous: the word pigeonhole.)
Something I truly enjoyed about this novel was the way Ishiguro plays around with the concept of narrator and of reliability, as well as the concept of perspective. Because Stevens is so wholly enmeshed in his role as a butler, he is in prime position to describe the minutiae of his profession. That said, Stevens is also completely incapable of seeing past that, though Ishiguro doesn’t prevent this from letting the reader catch glimpses of the circumstances taking place around his protagonist. I’ve always thought that this idea of an intradiegetic narrator is most deftly described by Arthur Golden’s Sayuri in Memoirs of a Geisha:
Autobiography, if there really is such a thing, is like asking a rabbit to tell us what he looks like hopping through the grasses of the field. How would he know? If we want to hear about the field, on the other hand, no one is in a better circumstance to tell us — so long as we keep in mind that we are missing all those things the rabbit was in no position to observe.
We can discern events and emotions, though we can’t bank on Stevens to be the one to inform us of them. That’s Ishiguro’s big gift here: acknowledging the intelligence of the reader. That, and the pure beauty of the writing.