The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I didn’t expect this book to focus so much on the meaning of one’s profession, but that is my main takeaway. What does it mean to do a good job? For a butler, does that mean absolute trust in his boss?

1) “‘It has been my privilege to see the best of England over the years, sir, within these very walls.'” – Stevens

Can you really see the best of a country by never going outside? What does that say about your country?

2) “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.”

Management 101. Everything always takes at least double the time it should take. If it doesn’t, it’s probably done wrong.

3) “But from my observation of Mr Farraday over these months, he is not one of those gentlemen prone to that most irritating of traits in an employer – inconsistency.”

Management 102. Although I think the key to being consistent is that you need to have thought things through beforehand.

4) “It is, I believe, a quality that will mark out the English landscape to any objective observer as the most deeply satisfying in the world, and this quality is probably best summed up by the term ‘greatness.'”

Ok, England. I guess this book does take place in the 20th century.

5) “Continentals are unable to be butlers because they are as a breed incapable of the emotional restraint which only the English race are capable of.”

Ok, England. This reminds me of the time when the immigration officer asked me if I was studying in Europe and I said no because I was studying in England.

6) “‘I mean, all this we’ve been talking about. Treaties and boundaries and reparations and occupations. But Mother Nature just carries on her own sweet way. Funny to think of it like that, don’t you think?'” – Mr. Cardinal

How many lives have been lost due to arbitrary borders? But then again, I don’t see an alternative.

7) “What I mean is that we were ambitious, in a way that would have been unusual a generation before, to serve gentlemen who were, so to speak, furthering the progress of humanity.”

Every generation claims they are unlike the last generation because they care about the meaning of their work. Still true now.

8) “‘Why, Mr. Stevens, why, why, why do you always have to pretend?'” – Miss Kenton

Stevens’ devotion to his work is admirable, but I think he would be an awfully frustrating person to be around.

9) “‘People do have a political conscience of sorts here. They feel they ought to have strong feelings on this and that, just as Harry urges them to. But really, they’re no different from people anywhere. They want a quiet life. Harry has a lot of ideas about changes to this and that, but really, no one in the village wants upheaval, even if it might benefit them. People here want to be left alone to lead their quiet little lives. They don’t want to be bothered with this issue and that issue.'” – the doctor

It’s a privilege to be able to afford not needing to care about politics.

10) “‘You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship’s wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can’t even say I made my own mistakes. Really – one has to ask oneself – what dignity is there in that?'” – Stevens

After a whole book of saying how he kept his dignity by never straying from his duties, Stevens realizes that having thoughts of his own is also a prerequisite for dignity.

Overall, this book was quite enjoyable. Easy reading but also thought provoking. I’m looking forward to reading some of his other works.

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