Wednesday, May 20, 2009

63. Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

June 2007
History: Published in 1998. The social rules at the time were certainly a major constraint. As we see in the book, servants who wish to get married and have children immediately find themselves without a job, since married life is seen as incompatible with total devotion to one's master. A truly "great butler" does not abandon his profession, and, as such, Stevens feels that such choices are foolish in regards to the life of a butler.
Plot: The novel The Remains of the Day tells the story of Stevens, an English butler who dedicates his life to the loyal service of Lord Darlington. The novel begins with Stevens receiving a letter from an ex colleague called Miss Kenton, describing her married life, which he believes hints at her unhappy marriage. The receipt of the letter allows Stevens the opportunity to revisit this once-cherished relationship, if only under the guise of possible re-employment. Stevens' new employer, a wealthy American, Mr Farraday, encourages Stevens to borrow a car to take a well-earned break, a "motoring trip." As he sets out, Stevens has the opportunity to reflect on his unmoving loyalty to Lord Darlington, the meaning of the term "dignity", and even his relationship with his father. Ultimately Stevens is forced to ponder the true nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton. As the book progresses, increasing evidence of Miss Kenton's one-time love for Stevens, and his for her, is revealed.
Working together during the years leading up to the Second World War, Stevens and Miss Kenton fail to admit their true feelings. All of their recollected conversations show a professional friendship, which came close, but never dared, to cross the line to romance.
Miss Kenton, it later emerges, has been married for over 20 years and therefore is no longer Miss Kenton but has become Mrs Benn. She admits to occasionally wondering what her life with Stevens might have been like, has come to love her husband, and is looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild. Stevens muses over lost opportunities, both with Miss Kenton and with his long-time employer, Lord Darlington. At the end of the novel, Stevens instead focuses on the "remains of [his] day", referring to his future service with Mr Farraday.
Review: This is 1950's England as seen through the eyes of Stevens, one of the last remaining true butlers, who lives only to do his duty, to serve his master and humanity in the hope of preserving justice throughout the world. But as Stevens undertakes a journey to the West Country that ultimately becomes a journey into his past we realize, as does he himself, that his view of the world is strangely double-edged, blurred by a shiny veneer of self-deception. Slowly a sterile, duty-bound life of missed opportunities and stifled emotions arises as Stevens prepares to face his old age.
Opening Line: “It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.”
Closing Line: “I should hope then, that by the time of my employer’s return, I shall be in a position to pleasantly surprise him.”
Quotes: “I am able to recall numerous occasions when the silver at Darlington Hall had a pleasing impact on observers.”
Rating: Good

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