Book Review: The Remains of the Day

Grace Yan

Acclaimed author Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day is his most famous novel– and for a good reason. Taking place in the subsequent years of WWII, the plot follows a butler named Stevens, who embarks on a short excursion to the English countryside to visit an old friend. All the while, he ruminates on many old memories, contemplates his life choices, and his ideals.

A large theme in play is the pursuit of dignity. Stevens believed the best way to live his life as a butler was to serve his employer, Lord Dalington, who he deemed a great, and noble man, and had the power to steer the fate of the European continent. However, after finding his professional demeanor had clashes with his own morals, Stevens chose to forsake his morality in pursuit of his dignity as a butler. 

Ultimately, the main theme of the novel is regret. Stevens, who dedicated his whole life to emulating the pinnacle of his profession, sacrificed many opportunities, his own happiness, and personal life. Regret is the root of many mental miseries is the knowledge that we could have done something better, and also knowing that there’s no second chance. Stevens  is forced to face the reality that his value as a butler was slowly declining, and can only ponder his life, knowing that nothing he does now can ever amend his mistakes. This is the most heartbreaking aspect of the novel and also why his story retains such relevance and resonance among readers, even after over three decades since its publication.