The Remains of The Day is the second novel of Ishiguro I read. I liked his Pale View of The Hills, so I picked this up on a hunch. I didn't know that this is considered his best work or that a movie was made out of this book.
The story is about Mr. Stevens an elderly butler of Darlington House and his reminiscences about his career. For Mr. Stevens, being a butler is about dignity, which he defines as not being perturbed by circumstances and staying true to one's profession. He treats his household work with the same meticulousness of a general planning for a battle. The novel is about his reminiscences about Lord Darlington and the time Mr. Stevens spent in his service.
It never occurs to Stevens that he was just a servant, and there was nothing great in the work he did. He sacrifices everything to the fanatical devotion of his job. Even when his father is in deathbed or when faced with a choice of romance against career. Even when his employer Lord Darlington is entertaining Nazi guests (major portion of the novel is set between the world wars), he doesn't want to think about it, simply stating that such things aren't in the realm of butlers.
Even when he meets the woman who could have been his wife, and she blurts out that she thinks everyday about how things could have been different if she had married him, he is unable to bring himself to say it out loud. He is steeped in the role of a butler and remains true to that role till the end. I half expected him to walk into the sea at the end of the novel, thinking about his wasted life. But he starts preparing himself to face his new employer's style of conversation. Then I realised that it would have been out of character for Mr. Stevens to commit suicide.
Ishiguro is a marvellous writer. The language of the novel is in the meandering verboseness of the butler and I got so much used to it, that I physically flinched when some one asks Mr. Stevens, "Hey are you a type of manservant?". Ishiguro slowly lets you into the heart of the character, and makes you want to catch hold of Stevens, slap him and shout "Wake up, your life is being wasted".
I was struggling to write the right sentence to complete this review, when I read this sentence in Amitav Gosh's The Hungry Tide - "The true tragedy of a routinely spent life is that its wastefulness does not become apparent till it is too late".