The Remains of the Day

( 79 )


The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar 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 ...

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The Remains of the Day

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The Remains of the Day is a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world postwar 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 served. 

A tragic, spiritual portrait of a perfect English butler and his reaction to his fading insular world in post-war England. A wonderful, wonderful book.

Winner of the 1989 Booker Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Stevens, an elderly butler who has spent 30 years in the service of Lord Darlington, ruminates on the past and inadvertently slackens his rigid grip on his emotions to confront the central issues of his life. Publishers Weekly called this Booker Prize-winner ``a tour de force--both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order.''
New York Times Books of the Century
...[A] beguiling comedy of manners that imperceptibly becomes a heart-rending study of personality...
From the Publisher
"A tour de force—both a compelling psychological study and a portrait of a vanished social order." —Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679731726
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1990
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: Media Tie
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 40,442
  • Lexile: 1210L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954 and moved to Britain at the age of five. He is the author of five novels, including The Remains of the Day, an international bestseller that won the Booker Prize and was adapted into an award-winning film. Ishiguro's work has been translated into twenty-eight languages. In 1995, he received an Order of the British Empire for service to literature, and in 1998 was named a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt


Darlington Hall

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday's Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days. The idea of such a journey came about, I should point out, from a most kind suggestion put to me by Mr Farraday himself one afternoon almost a fortnight ago, when I had been dusting the portraits in the library. In fact, as I recall, I was up on the step-ladder dusting the portrait of Viscount Wetherby when my employer had entered carrying a few volumes which he presumably wished returned to the shelves. On seeing my person, he took the opportunity to inform me that he had just that moment finalized plans to return to the United States for a period of five weeks between August and September. Having made this announcement, my employer put his volumes down on a table, seated himself on the chaise-longue, and stretched out his legs. It was then, gazing up at me, that he said:

'You realize, Stevens, I don't expect you to be locked up here in this house all the time Γm away. Why don't you take the car and drive off somewhere for a few days? You look like you could make good use of a break.'

Coming out of the blue as it did, I did not quite know how to reply to such a suggestion. I recall thanking him for his consideration, but quite probably I said nothing very definite, for my employer went on:

'I'm serious, Stevens. I really think you should take a break. I'll foot the bill for the gas. You fellows, you're always locked up in these big houses helping out, how do you ever get to see around this beautiful country of yours?'

This was not the first time my employer had raised such a question; indeed, it seems to be something which genuinely troubles him. On this occasion, in fact, a reply of sorts did occur to me as I stood up there on the ladder; a reply to the effect that those of our profession, although we did not see a great deal of the country in the sense of touring the countryside and visiting picturesque sites, did actually 'see' more of England than most, placed as we were in houses where the greatest ladies and gentlemen of the land gathered. Of course, I could not have expressed this view to Mr Farraday without embarking upon what might have seemed a presumptuous speech. I thus contented myself by saying simply:

'It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.'

Mr Farraday did not seem to understand this statement, for he merely went on: Ί mean it, Stevens. It's wrong that a man can't get to see around his own country. Take my advice, get out of the house for a few days.'

As you might expect, I did not take Mr Farraday's suggestion at all seriously that afternoon, regarding it as just another instance of an American gentleman's unfamiliarity with what was and what was not commonly done in England. The fact that my attitude to this same suggestion underwent a change over the following days — indeed, that the notion of a trip to the West Country took an ever-increasing hold on my thoughts — is no doubt substantially attributable to — and why should I hide it? — the arrival of Miss Kenton's letter, her first in almost seven years if one discounts the Christmas cards. But let me make it immediately clear what I mean by this; what I mean to say is that Miss Kenton's letter set off a certain chain of ideas to do with professional matters here at Darlington Hall, and I would underline that it was a preoccupation with these very same professional matters that led me to consider anew my employer's kindly meant suggestion. But let me explain further.

The fact is, over the past few months, I have been responsible for a series of small errors in the carrying out of my duties. I should say that these errors have all been without exception quite trivial in themselves. Nevertheless,I think you will understand that to one not accustomed to committing such errors, this development was rather disturbing, and I did in fact begin to entertain all sorts of alarmist theories as to their cause. As so often occurs in these situations, I had become blind to the obvious — that is, until my pondering over the implications of Miss Kenton's letter finally opened my eyes to the simple truth: that these small errors of recent months have derived from nothing more sinister than a faulty staff plan.

It is, of course, the responsibility of every butler to devote his utmost care in the devising of a staff plan. Who knows how many quarrels, false accusations, unnecessary dismissals, how many promising careers cut short can be attributed to a butler's slovenliness at the stage of drawing up the staff plan? Indeed, I can say I am in agreement with those who say that the ability to draw up a good staff plan is the cornerstone of any decent butler's skills. I have myself devised many staff plans over the years, and I do not believe I am being unduly boastful if I say that very few ever needed amendment. And if in the present case the staff plan is at fault, blame can be laid at no one's door but my own. At the same time, it is only fair to point out that my task in this instance had been of an unusually difficult order.

What had occurred was this. Once the transactions were over — transactions which had taken this house out of the hands of the Darlington family after two centuries — Mr Farraday let it be known that he would not be taking up immediate residence here, but would spend a further four months concluding matters in the United States. In the meantime, however, he was most keen that the staff of his predecessor — a staff of which he had heard high praise — be retained at Darlington Hall. This 'staff' he referred to was, of course, nothing more than the skeleton team of six kept on by Lord Darlington's relatives to administer to the house up to and throughout the transactions; and I regret to report that once the purchase had been completed, there was little I could do for Mr Farraday to prevent all but Mrs Clements leaving for other employment. When I wrote to my new employer conveying my regrets at the situation, I received by reply from America instructions to recruit a new staff 'worthy of a grand old English house'. I immediately set about trying to fulfil Mr Farraday's wishes, but as you know, finding recruits of a satisfactory standard is no easy task nowadays, and although I was pleased to hire Rosemary and Agnes on Mrs Clements's recommendation, I had got no further by the time I came to have my first business meeting with Mr Farraday during the short preliminary visit he made to our shores in the spring of last year. It was on that occasion — in the strangely bare study of Darlington Hall — that Mr Farraday shook my hand for the first time, but by then we were hardly strangers to each other; quite aside from the matter of the staff, my new employer in several other instances had had occasion to call upon such qualities as it may be my good fortune to possess and found them to be, I would venture, dependable. So it was, I assume, that he felt immediately able to talk to me in a businesslike and trusting way, and by the end of our meeting, he had left me with the administration of a not inconsiderable sum to meet the costs of a wide range of preparations for his coming residency. In any case, my point is that it was during the course of this interview, when I raised the question of the difficulty of recruiting suitable staff in these times, that Mr Farraday, after a moment's reflection, made his request of me; that I do my best to draw up a staff plan — "some sort of servants' rota' as he put it — by which this house might be run on the present staff of four — that is to say, Mrs Clements, the two young girls, and myself. This might, he appreciated, mean putting sections of the house 'under wraps', but would I bring all my experience and expertise to bear to ensure such losses were kept to a minimum? Recalling a time when I had had a staff of seventeen under me, and knowing how not so long ago a staff of twenty-eight had been employed here at Darlington Hall, the idea of devising a staff plan by which the same house would be run on a staff of four seemed, to say the least, daunting. Although I did my best not to, something of my scepticism must have betrayed itself, for Mr Farraday then added, as though for reassurance, that were it to prove necessary, then an additional member of staff could be hired. But he would be much obliged, he repeated, if I could 'give it a go with four'.

Now naturally, like many of us, I have a reluctance to change too much of the old ways. But there is no virtue at all in clinging as some do to tradition merely for its own sake. In this age of electricity and modern heating systems, there is no need at all to employ the sorts of numbers necessary even a generation ago. Indeed, it has actually been an idea of mine for some time that the retaining of unnecessary numbers simply for tradition's sake — resulting in employees having an unhealthy amount of time on their hands — has been an important factor in the sharp decline in professional standards. Furthermore, Mr Farraday had made it clear that he planned to hold only very rarely the sort of large social occasions Darlington Hall had seen frequently in the past. I did then go about the task Mr Farraday had set me with some dedication; I spent many hours working on the staff plan, and at least as many hours again thinking about it as I went about other duties or as I lay awake after retiring. Whenever I believed I had come up with something, I probed it for every sort of oversight, tested it through from all angles. Finally, I came up with a plan which, while perhaps not exactly as Mr Farraday had requested, was the best, I felt sure, that was humanly possible. Almost all the attractive parts of the house could remain operative: the extensive servants' quarters — including the back corridor, the two still rooms and the old laundry — and the guest corridor up on the second floor would be dust-sheeted, leaving all the main ground-floor rooms and a generous number of guest rooms. Admittedly, our present team of four would manage this programme only with reinforcement from some daily workers; my staff plan therefore took in the services of a gardener, to visit once a week, twice in the summer, and two cleaners, each to visit twice a week. The staff plan would, furthermore, for each of the four resident employees mean a radical altering of our respective customary duties. The two young girls, I predicted, would not find such changes so difficult to accommodate, but I did all I could to see that Mrs Clements suffered the least adjustments, to the extent that I undertook for myself a number of duties which you may consider most broad-minded of a butler to do.

Even now, I would not go so far as to say it is a bad staff plan; after all, it enables a staff of four to cover an unexpected amount of ground. But you will no doubt agree that the very best staff plans are those which give clear margins of error to allow for those days when an employee is ill or for one reason or another below par. In this particular case, of course, I had been set a slightly extraordinary task, but I had nevertheless not been neglectful to incorporate 'margins' wherever possible. I was especially conscious that any resistance there may be on the part of Mrs Clements, or the two girls, to the taking on of duties beyond their traditional boundaries would be compounded by any notion that their workloads had greatly increased. I had then, over those days of struggling with the staff plan, expended a significant amount of thought to ensuring that Mrs Clements and the girls, once they had got over their aversion to adopting these more 'eclectic' roles, would find the division of duties stimulating and unburdensome.

I fear, however, that in my anxiety to win the support of Mrs Clements and the girls, I did not perhaps assess quite as stringently my own limitations; and although my experience and customary caution in such matters prevented my giving myself more than I could actually carry out, I was perhaps negligent over this question of allowing myself a margin. It is not surprising then, if over several months, this oversight should reveal itself in these small but telling ways. In the end, I believe the matter to be no more complicated than this: I had given myself too much to do.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 79 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 21, 2010

    for those who don't mind slower pace

    The book is about Stevens a butler in Lord Darlington's house. When Mr. Darlington dies, the house is sold to an American gentleman who spends most of his time in America. He suggests to Stevens that he should take a few days off. Stevens decides to travel around England for 6 days. During this journey he spends most of his time to remember the good old days.
    As I started reading this book I thought it might be a boring one, instead it turned out to be an emotional and heartbreaking journey for me as well. You will not find a lot of action in this book. I would say it's a sad story of what didn't happened. What really makes this book a great read is how well detailed Steven's personality, emotions and thoughts are described. Every sentence is simply perfect. Definitely must read for those who don't mind a slower pace.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2001

    A true tour de force

    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. Highly recommended. It's difficult to believe how much Kazuo Ishiguro packed into this short (by today's standards), highly praised novel -- a lifetime of work and relationships, the realization of inescapable regret, and the hope it is not too late to join the rest of humanity. Stevens is a butler for an English house that is no longer great, nor is it owned by the family for which it is named. His postwar employer is, instead, an American named Farraday; as a stranger will point out to him later, 'An American? Well, they're the only ones can afford it now.' Farraday 'affords' Darlington Hall by shutting much of the house down and using a reduced staff, which Stevens can understand, as the staff that would be available would not be up to his own high standards. When he receives a sad, lonely letter from Darlington's former housekeeper, Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), and later is told by Farraday that he can borrow his employer's car for a vacation on the road, he weighs the opportunity and decides to take it for 'professional reasons' -- to see if he can lure back the highly qualified Miss Kenton to her former position. During the brief journey, he spends much of his time contemplating what 'dignity' in his profession means -- and whether he lived up to it. After a plethora of recollections about the late Lord Darlington during the prewar years and after his meeting with Miss Kenton, Stevens comes to two great understandings: he did not serve a great man as he thought he had, and, in doing so, he had missed a chance for love and fulfillment. His devotion to Lord Darlington has betrayed him, personally and professionally. 'I can't even say I made my own mistakes,' he laments. 'Really -- one has to say -- what dignity is there in that?' This revelation does not come quickly or easily to either Stevens or the reader. Each anecdote that Stevens recalls to illustrate a point he wishes to make to himself -- the definition of dignity, how he upheld dignity by serving his employer while his own father lay dying -- subtly reveals how much he has shut himself down emotionally in order to serve. With each story, it becomes clearer that Lord Darlingon is an easily manipulated man, out of his league in world politics but insistent on playing the role of peacemaker -- even when it is no longer appropriate or wise. When his friendship with a woman leads him to firing two Jewish maids, it foreshadows his attempts to influence the British government into appeasing Hitler and the Nazis at any cost. He goes so far as to say that the U.K. should perhaps follow Germany's lead. 'Germany and Italy have set their houses in order by acting . . . See what strong leadership can do if it's allowed to act. None of this universal suffrage nonsense.' Stevens unwittingly proves Lord Darlington's point for him -- he trusts Lord Darlington's judgment as blindly as any German trusted Hitler's, believing that 'people like him' are too ignorant to make the decisions that must be made and following the great man contentedly -- and thus making a bad decision. When it comes to Miss Kenton, here too his perception is kept in check by his need for professionalism and dignity. His repeated emphasis on their 'professional' relationship and his desire to reconnect with her as a 'professional' only highlight the extent to which he will go to suppress his real feelings -- and the very real possibilities that existed. In life and love, Stevens realises he has been avoiding both. In the end, however, there is hope. After sending Miss Kenton home, back to her husband, Stevens turns to 'bantering'; that is, engaging with people without resorting to pre-programmed professional phrases --in short, truly interacting with his fellow humans. 'A

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2012

    Recommended.... but not everyone would enjoy it.

    It is well written and most of it is the butler telling his story and events of his life as a butler in England.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    Loved it!

    I'm so glad I read this book. I first saw the movie years ago and it's one of my favorites. I could see the movie characters in my mind while reading the book and that made the book make more sense and much more enjoyable. I'll be reading more of Mr Ishiguro's books for sure!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2010

    great read

    book highlights a person who is constantly looking back, but has no real idea of what he is looking at.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2015

    Scott's Super Groovy two week reading list.

    O.k., so I successfully never touched a law book during my 4,000(?) Day beat down. ;)probably need to fellate a PMBR now. :0

    ReadaloozopaloozaAnuary continues.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2013

    Angela shikany

    Too expensive.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 22, 2013

    Definitely an interesting book. It follows a man who has tried

    Definitely an interesting book. It follows a man who has tried to live a fulfilling life, one with dignity for the past thirty-some-odd years and still attempts to discern what that means for himself. In order to reassure himself, he looks back on his life he's had so far and attempts to make sense of what exactly his role was and if it actually made a difference. Quite a powerful book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    Excellent read

    I am a fan of anything related to manor life, service, and the British aristocracy. This book has all of that, but is additionally a strong character study that takes the reader inside the narrator's introspections in his "remains of the day" that is his life. Moving, thought provoking, yet not depressing. A nice journey into the narrator and into Darlington Hall.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2012

    Slow going

    I did like the book, but it was slow going.

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  • Posted September 16, 2011


    The book is a study of how,during that era, this butler missed opportunities,love,his lack of education,his very sad and brittle relationship with a father who molded him into the perfect butler/servant. He was raised to behave and to suppress his own desires. Whatever the goings on around "Mr Stevens&Miss Kenton" this is, in the end, a love story between two people who,for the times they inhabit,could not connect. E. M. Forster seems to have had some influence on Ishiguro in that Forster's motto was that we must " only connect". Apparently the times did not allow for it here.Definitely recommend along with E,M,Forsters works,as they seem to give continuity of the represented era.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2011


    Favourite book of all time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:


    This is the second time I am reading this wonderful novel. If you're searching for an impeccable, nuanced read and character study. This is the book for you. If you're looking for a fast action, indiana jones type book, then no, probably not the book for you. Ishiguro surprises with his study of responsibility and self-delusion. The Butler Stevens is hilarious and heart wrenching in his quest for dignity and sense of the perfect butler. Ishiguro's NEVER LET ME GO is also an amazing read, completely different and yet the same in the character's resignation...I understand the book is to be made into a movie starring Kiera Knightley.

    Its a great study in tone and reflection upon a vanished order. Stevens is impeccable.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2008

    A Disappointing Telling of No Progression...Spoiler Alert

    Ishiguro¿s writing is very eloquent and descriptive, but his plot development is lacking. The book does a great job of showing the reader Stevens¿ every thought and his obsessive-compulsive way of thinking. However, there is so little action that the book is hardly worth reading. <BR/>The entire novel is told through a re-telling of Stevens¿ experiences. This all happens while he is supposed to be escaping from his work¿which has consumed his entire life¿and experiencing the English countryside. But Ishiguro focuses so much on Stevens¿ obsession with his work that nothing interesting happens on his journey at all.<BR/>Stevens is impossible to relate to because normal people are so much more self-centered than he. A main theme in the book is ¿greatness.¿ Stevens measures greatness by how devoted one is to his work and how completely he can devote himself to his employer. His total devotion robs him of any personal development and leaves him socially crippled. This book is so disappointing due to the lack of any relationship development, and lack of any lessons learned. <BR/>Probably the most disappointing aspect of the novel was that the situations Stevens encountered gave perfect opportunity for personal development. Sadly, even though he was removed from his workplace, he still could not relax his professionalism and grow into his own person. His love interest was lost, he allowed his employer¿s needs to get in the way of his own moral views, and he learned nothing about himself on what seemed would be a symbolic journey of discovery across the country. <BR/>The novel does a great job of showing Stevens¿ miniscule observations and obscure obsession with his work. I would recommend this book to a reader who is interested in in-depth character descriptions and skewed ways of thinking. I would not recommend it to anyone looking for plot or a personal progression in a novel.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2008

    A Quiet Novel of Lost Opportunity

    As Stevens strives for a life of perfection and dignity in his chosen profession he loses the ability to relate and react to others in a natural way. In fact, he believes the acme of his performance as a 'great' butler occurred on the night his father died, noting to others that his father, also a butler, would have approved. It is only as he reflects upon the direction his life has taken while on a road trip that he begins to understand what he had given up. In lighter moments in the novel we see glimpses of Stevens grappling with such behaviors as bantering in much the same way a sociopath would grapple with affection. An excellent portrayal of a man and his milieu.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2007

    Brilliantly put together

    At first, I couldn't understand what was so great about it, but by the time I finished I had a completely new appreciation for the story. While it may appear to be somewhat drawn out in the beginning, Ishiguro allows the readers to understand the character's dedication and focus in his career so that we can fully appreciate his future experiences and realizations. There's so much to be felt in the things that Stevens (the main character) doesn't do or say and leaves us with a bittersweet ending. I originally had picked up this book having read Never Let Me Go, also a great novel on a completely different level and put together in a very different way. Thus while this novel is different from those I normally read, I still thoroughly enjoyed it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2006

    An Interesting Read

    Definately not similar to the stories of teen angst and meaningless relationships i've been reading. This book was a refreshing change. It may not be a book that a younger audience is accustomed to reading but it is definately worth a try. You have to be able to see past the text and understand the deeper meaning behind the narration. I was assigned this book for an english assignment and yes, it may have been hard to read (i fell asleep a few times), but after reading the ending it was definately worth it. Kazuo Ishiguro has won many awards for his work, why would he win these awards if his work is as bad as people have claimed in previous reviews?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2005

    Stevens...possibly the most boring and frustrating character ever created...?

    Whilst I can identify the themes and motives within Ishiguro's work, from the very beginning I found the character of Stevens most disagreeable. I had to force myself to turn the page, and resist hurling the book across the room, whether this be through boredom, or merely frustration at this tedious character, I have yet to decide. Having finished the novel I understood Ishiguro's aims, and perhaps he achieved them in the most effective way,however this book requires effort to read and the result is disappointing.Whilst it may be a perfect study novel, it lacks the essentials for an entertaining read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2004

    An Exquisitely Heartbreaking, Moving Novel

    Any rating of less than 5 stars for this novel must be attributed to a deficiency of some sort in the reviewer, for not one such dieficiency exists within the novel itself. It is perfect. True, the ending leaves one completely and utterly devastated, but that is, in fact, the point. The control of tone is unwavering and the style is flawless. It's impossible not to fall in love with this book. Read it, again and again.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2004

    A big disappointment

    The book was very boring. I never got into the book. Stevens, the main character lacked emotion and didn't have feelings. All Stevens cared about was his work. The ending was very predictable. It is one of the worst books I have ever read. The only reason I read the book because it was required. The book was a waste of time.

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