Kazuo Ishiguro’s moving portrait of the perfect English butler, his loyalty and his fading, insular world in post-war England.
At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, during which he looks back over his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving ‘a great gentleman.’ But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s ‘greatness’ - and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he has served.
The Remains of the Day is in fact a brilliant subversion of the fictional modes from which it seems at first to descend
Anthony Hopkins took on the role of butler James Stevens, with Emma Thompson as Sarah ‘Sally’ Kenton. The film also starred Christopher Reeve and Hugh Grant.
The Hollywood Reporter’s review described Hopkins’ performance as ‘truly colossal’ and a ‘tour de force’, and said the film was ‘beautiful to look at and deeply moving in many scenes’.
Hopkins won the Best Actor award at the 1993 British Academy Film Awards for his role in The Remains of the Day.
Perhaps I’m naive but I imagine a judge sitting down to read each book behind a veil of ignorance
His citation said he ‘in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world’.
In his Nobel Lecture, delivered on December 7 2017, Ishiguro spoke about the surprise he felt when he started writing a story about Japan, after not having ‘set foot in that country – not even for a holiday – since leaving it at the age of five’.
Speaking about his parents and upbringing, Ishiguro said he had ‘become thoroughly trained in the manners expected of English middle-class boys in those days’ but was ‘leading another life at home with my Japanese parents’.
The Remains of the Day, Ishiguro said in his speech, was ‘my first [novel] not to have a Japanese setting – my personal Japan having been made less fragile by the writing of my previous novels’.
‘In fact my new book, to be called The Remains of the Day, seemed English in the extreme – though not, I hoped, in the manner of many British authors of the older generation,’ he continued.
The judges for the 1989 Booker Prize had a series of ‘prolonged, intense and anxious’ meetings, said Lodge in his speech, on their way to crowning The Remains of the Day.
The book was chosen from 102 books that were submitted or called in that year.
In a short speech, Ishiguro urged the audience to think about Salman Rushdie, who in 1989 had a fatwa issued against him by the Ayatollah of Iran, following the release of The Satanic Verses.
Ishiguro said: ‘I think it will be improper of us not to at least remember him this evening and to think about, I suppose, the rather alarming significance of the plight he is in this evening.’
The Remains of the Day is a dream of a book: a beguiling comedy of manners that evolves almost magically into a profound and heart-rending study of personality, class and culture.— Lawrence Graver at The New York Times, 1989