It’s been some months but when I think of Mr. Stevens I still feel incredibly sad. In all the books I’ve read this year, his is the most resonant voice: wistful, lonely regret masked by that most masculine baritone of dignity and duty – and their necessary denial of all emotion. It’s ever so British.
How does Ishiguro achieve this?
He tells a story through the thoughts and words of a character who is not directly privy to the workings of his own self. Ishiguro does not rely on physical description or lengthy character biography. Rather, everything we know about Stevens comes from him – a man not prone to divulgence and incapable of self analysis.Instead of scrutiny and interpretation, a meaningful search for understanding, we have to glean from slight fissures in a facade. A facade so ingrained, it has become the man but every so often another man rises to the surface, gasping for air.
These gasps and fissures are the artful brilliance of a master of restraint and the carefully placed sentence. In Stevens’ account of his past in Darlington Hall, he inches towards realizations and, in the breadth of the same utterance, reverses, gets it wrong, fails to understand himself, oblivious to the obvious. Ishiguro’s novel is full of these sentence reversals, sprinkled with telling prefaces such as “No doubt” this and “Quite probably” that. Narrative style and technique mirrors character. Pages of seemingly straight-forward memories are abruptly altered in meaning by a very occasional admission, culminating in the devastating final confession, realized far too late.
Indeed – why should I not admit it? – at that moment, my heart was breaking.
As was mine, and still is when I think too long about it. The Remains of the Day is compelling in so many ways. It raises moral questions of loyalty and complicity and our role in and responsibility for what happens to ourselves. It shows us that the desire to love and be loved – to be essential to someone – is so deep and profound it hurts us to admit it for fear it cannot be. That Ishiguro can say all this without actually saying it is, to me, its most impressive feat. He is a writer to pore over, again and again, and wonder How did he do that?