The Remains of the Day

by Kazuo Ishiguro. Knopf, $18.95. Tnquestioning devotion to duty is hardly an unlikely theme for a Japanese novelist, but that Mr. lshiguro should embody it in an English butler is a piquant surprise. His narrator, the indispensable Stevens, describes his adventures and reflections during a trip through the West. Stevens is not addicted to the road, and his command of the car thrust upon him by his new American employer is less than expert. He has time to meditate on the value of his profession, on the nature of dignity, on the requirements of service, and on the events of his uneventful life. He is totally humorless and myopically preoccupied by his job. He should be dull. Mr. Ishiguro makes him immensely interesting by causing him to reveal to the reader what Stevens himself does not understand either about his own conduct or about the activities of the nobleman whom he served devotedly for most of his career. The author maintains this double-vision pattern without ever deviating from the overcareful style that he has created for Stevens, and the effect is funny and sad and ultimately disturbing, for questions of moral responsibility lurk behind the novel’s highly polished surface.