The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ask anyone and you will find everyone has something to talk about life with natural octaves from the highest note to the lowest and best registrar recorded over the vicissitudes of life as if living an ordinary life without a material curriculum vitae were a sign of defeatism synonymous with rootlessness. More often than not, a straightforwardly elliptical, honest-to-goodness narrative is not considered a smashing subject matter for a bestseller that merits an entire aisle of any bookseller, but the story of English butler Stevens shoehorns his ordinary work experience into a suitably fashionable stance for a modern-day memoir that reads like a continual fugue of flattering hopes, misguided beliefs, despotic self-denials, cruel disappointments, and smothered pleasures, all elegantly interwoven into a polyphony of life in The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
The Moment of Reckoning Stevens falls into, pace the general opinion of the mass, results not from his disillusioned loyalty toward Nazi sympathizer Lord Darlington but from his own disoriented value and belief systems in accordance with the changing zeitgeist in the wake of the two great wars. Lord Darlington epitomized what dignity and magnanimity meant to Stevens in a way that his position as a butler was as equally prestigious and sovereign as that of his aristocratic employer Lord Darlington, a figure of respectful English peerage that deserved of his dedication and devotion. It’s really a case of ‘Qualis rex, talis glex,’ meaning “As is the king, so is the people.” And it was this belief system that made Stevens endure occupational humiliation from arrogant guests of high birth, the grief of the death of his father, and tender feelings toward Ms. Kenton, a former head housekeeper at the Darlington Mansion. In fact, such belief system based on seemingly antediluvian values in the post-modern era was Stevens’ lifeline that had kept him going until he took a trip to see now married Ms. Kenton, a kind of Beatrice-like figure guiding Dante from Hell and Purgatory to Paradise.
Stevens’s existential dilemma stems from his existential vertigo in the aftermath of the wars and the subsequent social changes that upended the foundations of the collective value and belief systems of society. Stevens’s inner world was put into an existential vacuum, a void that can only be filled by a sense of purpose and new attitudes toward life in search of finding meaning therein. Rather than bemoaning his life as a boring butler, Stevens kept trying to find meaning in what he had been doing, what he was still doing, and what he would do by asking himself the question of his own life to which only he could answer; that is, to a life he could only respond by being responsible. And it was not a reactionary response with his fists clenched in bitterness and a sprit of French Revolution against the privileged few, but his own examination of his life that felt a void in a sense of direction in life.
Kazuo Ishiguro created a character whose existential dilemma is relatable and pitiable with his mastery of characterization, the wealth of imaginations, and study of human nature, in his signature elliptical narrative skills laced with nuanced emotions that never lay the whole character bare to the eyes of the public. He’s a fantastic writer who shows readers that a good writer is capable of travel and metamorphoses no matter where he was born or what he looks like. I wonder how many writers tried to break free from their biological planes and even dreamed about being who they wanted to be, confidently and naturally crossing the boundaries of culture and race just as Ishiguro did without branding his Japanese cultural and Asian traits as a convenient foundation for suitably fashionable “ethnic” literature. All in all, this is a fascinating book to observe how social changes can affect an individual and how one copes with such historic and cultural juggernauts in search of meaning in life. This book is a testament to the magical craft of writing that a writer should be all that he is capable of becoming no matter who he is. For a writer is also a magician of words, a wondrous sort of shapeshifter in letters.
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