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Book Review: The Remains Of The Day

It has been quite a long time since I last read through a novel. I have started anew taking up reading. The Remains Of The Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is the second book I finished in this endeavor. It was in my reading list since I first heard about it in a literature class back in 2020. Sadly, we did not have the time to complete all the reading assignments so I postponed it to another time. Well, the time had come.

I usually look up why a book matters, what makes it so popular, and try to understand how it differentiates itself. Then I set about reading it. This time, however, I read just for the sake of reading. I had prejudice because the author is considered to be a postmodern author and I can’t say I am fond of such novels. But my prejudice was vain.

Our protagonist is Mr. Stevens, a highly professional butler at the Darlington Hall. Having been at the service of a British gentleman named Lord Darlington for decades, he is now working for an American businessman who acquired the estate following the decease of Lord Darlington. We do not know what year it is, but it is the postwar years. Seeing an American businessman residing at a British nobleman’s residence, we deduct instantaneously the passing of time and change that the author wants to emphasize. These two concepts are highly significant throughout the book, along with two other concepts: crossroads and choices.

Mr. Stevens is quite obsessed with his profession. He always wants to assure that his employer is satisfied with his work, and his needs are fulfilled. He thinks in length about various approaches in his profession, theorizes what qualities a professional butler must possess and what he should do in this or that situation. He admires the great butlers of the past, how they handled without noise miscellaneous inconveniences their noble employers faced or would face.

You feel it though. You feel that what goes inside Mr. Stevens’ mind is not what is written in his diary. You sense that it is distraction. He occupies his mind by choosing unconsciously to think and write about his profession, hurdles he encounter while practicing butlership. From the moment he receives a letter from a former colleague he used to work with at the Darlington Hall, Miss Kenton (Mrs. Benn), he is unable to hold the reins of his thoughts any longer. Inferring from her letter that her marriage may not be going well, he decides to pay her a visit. Mr. Stevens is quite curious about the situation but he reasons that his visit is purely professional because he wants to entertain the possibility of her re-joining the Darlington Hall staff, which is understaffed at the moment. His American employer, who is also about to go on a trip, says he can have his sports car and take a leave for several days. And now the story begins. Mr. Stevens takes the car and drives where Miss Kenton lives.

This is a long ride. Throughout his journey, he reflects on his relationship with Lord Darlington. His time at the Darlington Hall with Miss Kenton. As his reflections grow deeper, we become more aware that the Darlington Hall has a dark past, Lord Darlington is not as dignified as he thinks of him, and that he had feelings for Miss Kenton and it was mutual. Miss Kenton makes moves so that Mr. Stevens is aware of her feelings. Although he is aware of the tension between her and himself, he does not let go of his self-restraint, probably having not had such intense feelings in the past and not understanding how to respond to her signs of affection. During the roadtrip, he gets flashbacks and reminisces all the lost opportunities, how he selflessly worked for Lord Darlington, and that there is no way of turning back time. At the end of the trip, he understands that dwelling on the past offers no good. Instead, he should live the remains of his days, focusing on ‘now’.

Seeing Mr. Stevens cope with lost opportunities; the people he regarded as noble committed ignoble action; all the service he selflessly offered at the Darlington Hall may not be really worth it; how his upbringing by his butler father, constant strive to achieve unreachable levels of professionality as butler has exhausted him and caused him to waste his years, and that his professional views not allowing to express his sentiments and denying him happiness that he could perhaps find with Miss Kenton makes the reader consider one’s life. Mr. Stevens is a fictional character that seems to take its inspiration from what any human can experience during one’s lifetime.

Crossroads we face in life, choices we make and what-ifs… Reconsidering what happened in the past and trying to understand if our judgement at that time was right or wrong. Was everything indeed as we thought them to be or was there a different perspective all along? The Remains Of The Day, no matter how captivating and cool its title is, narrates the inner world of an obsessively professional butler named Mr. Stevens. Yet, emotional intensity one finds in this book is the kind that will resonate throughout one’s life. It is about 250 pages. But human traits observed in this book transcend time and place.

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Aydın Bülbül
Aydın Bülbül
Boğaziçi Üniversitesi Çeviribilim Bölümünde lisans eğitimini sürdürmektedir. İlgi duyduğu alanlar arasında tarih, siyaset, müzik, sanat, gezi ve fotoğrafçılık yer almakta. Bilmediğini öğrenme arzusu kendisi için itici güç olsa da ivedi değişen ilgi alanları herhangi bir konuda derinleşmesinin önüne geçiyor. Bu vaziyetten sitemkâr fakat böyle olmanın kendi zihin dünyasını çeşitlendirdiği kanısında. Diller üzerine düşünmekten, dil öğrenmekten zevk alır. İşlerini erkenden halletmezse anksiyete sahibi olur, o yüzden bir an evvel sorumluluklarını yerine getirmeye çalışır. Geleceğin onu nasıl şekillendireceği hususunda bikarar durumda, o yüzden hayatı biraz da akışına bırakıp zevklerini ve keyfini önceliklendirmekte.