Tuesday, July 26, 2011

08 The Remains Of The Day-Kazuo Ishiguro

Written in 1988, the author seems Japanese, and he is. But while he was born in Japan he also grew up in England. He writes in a very specific style. His sentences are elevated to a level of perfection only a British perfectionist could accomplish.
With 8 Academy nominations in 1994, the movie adaptation of The Remains Of The Day seemed to be taken quite well, critically. Let me just say that the movie was horrible. Anthony Hopkins will forever be Hannibal Lector in my mind. And as a butler, this Hopkins’ character would have eaten the leading men of Europe before WWII. This realistic fiction novel takes place in England after WWII. It is a story told by a butler, about his experiences with his employer who was extremely involved in British Foreign policy between WWI and WWII. 
The story is told as a series of journal entries by the protagonist Mr. Stevens, and he thinks his job is the only thing that fills his life with purpose. His opinion of dignity-a seriousness of behavior and a sense of self-respect and pride in ones actions-is the one most important aspect of his existence:
“The story was an apparently true one concerning a certain butler who had traveled with his employer to India and served there for many years maintaining amongst the native staff the same high standards he had commanded in England. One afternoon, evidently, this butler had entered the dining room to make sure all was well for dinner, when he noticed a tiger languishing beneath the dining table. The butler had left the dining room quietly, taking care to close the doors behind him, and proceeded calmly to the drawing room where his employer was taking tea with a number of visitors. There he attracted his employer’s attending with a polite cough, then whispered in the latter’s ear: ‘I’m very sorry, sir, but there appears to be a tiger in the dining room. Perhaps you will permit the twelve-bores to be used?’
            And according to legend, a few minutes later, the employer and his guests heard three gun shots. When the butler reappeared in the drawing room some time afterwards to refresh the teapots, the employer had inquired if all was well.
            ‘Perfectly fine, thank you, sir,’ had come the reply. ‘Dinner will be served at the usual time and I am pleased to say there will be no discernible traces left of the recent occurrence by that time.’”
(page 36)
Mr. Stevens is a rather boring man, that lives to work, in opposition to the way I live my own life, I work to live, and try to find joy in my profession along the way. Stevens’ life is his job. He has no social life, no friends, no aspirations or goals. He only cares about his job and making his master happy. The detail and amount of work that go into serving as butler are a bit preposterous. From shining silver, to dusting, to serving dinner, tea, drinks, and ordering other servants around the house. I would never want to be a butler, but while reading the first 30 pages I felt I would have made an excellent butler. I like to think I am one that has “a dignity in keeping with his position”

1 comment:

Brent Waggoner said...

I read this book earlier this year. I think the progression of the butler's thought throughout is pretty amazing, how he gradually realizes his (and his master's) place in history. It's also pretty impressive how a book mostly about buttling manages to so readable--it was perfectly paced.