Kazuo Ishiguro’s subtle masterpiece about the private agonies of an ageing butler is hardly unknown – it won the 1989 Booker prize.Stevens reminisces grandly about his former employer, Lord Darlington, above, an aristocrat who aligned himself with the Nazis , in the years before World War II, having a great sympathy for Germany and he eventually died in disgrace.
He sifts through memories of his father – a butler himself who sadly dies on the job.
Lord Darlington, in the years before World War II, had great sympathy for Germany, and hoped to bring about a separate peace between Britain and the Nazis. In this he was not precisely evil; he was deluded, short-sighted, easily persuaded by the pieties of genteel racism. He was, as a dinner guest brutally informs him, an amateur, who should have left international relations to the professionals.
“The Remains of the Day” tells the story of Stevens’ trip to the sea, and what he finds there. Along the way, in flashback, we see his memories of the great days at the hall, when Lord Darlington played host to the world’s leaders, and it seemed at times the future of Britain was being decided. And slowly we begin to realise that things were not as they seemed, that Darlington was not as wise as he thought, that Stevens was blind to the reality around him.
The “statesmen” of their day , all derided as Amateurs by the American attending.
In a British country house of the period, the head butler and the housekeeper would have been equals, roughly speaking, each supervising the two major realms of service. Miss Kenton is clearly attracted to the butler, but he is terrified of intimacy, and sidesteps it through a fanatic devotion to his work. The film demonstrates this in a series of quiet, almost secretive scenes, in which she pushes, and he flees. The most painful, and brilliant, shows Miss Kenton surprising Stevens in his room, reading a book.
What book? she asks. He hides the cover. She pursues him, cornering him, snatching the book away to find it is a best-selling romance.
She had not imagined he read romances! He only reads, he stiffly explains, to improve his vocabulary.
Does Stevens possess any ordinary human feelings? Quite possibly, but something has led him to bury them.
The most intimate moment, he “rejects” her ……..
“Miss Kenton, with her great affection for this house, with her exemplary professionalism, was just the factor needed to enable me to complete a fully satisfactory staff plan for Darlington Hall.”
So you have your brushes father, after his stroke, and you have a roving commission to clean and tidy the house
Most of all, though, it’s a book about love. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Booker-winning novel is a story of unspoken love for anyone who’s ever held their true feelings back
Mr Stevens is chief of staff at an English stately home; as the novel opens, in the summer of 1956, he is set to undertake a motoring trip to visit Miss Kenton, a housekeeper who left 20 years earlier to get married. The butler says he wants to ask her if she’d consider returning to work.Stevens isn’t fooling anyone, especially when he lets slip that a letter contains hints her marriage is falling apart.
The Remains of the Day is a book about a thwarted life. It’s about how class conditioning can turn you into your own worst enemy, making you complicit in your own subservience. It’s probably quite an English book – I can’t imagine readers in more gregarious nations will have much patience with a protagonist who takes four decades to fail to declare his feelings. “Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way,” as Pink Floyd sang. It’s a book for anyone who feels they’ve ever held themselves back when something that truly mattered was within their grasp.
Stevens is forced to let go of his illusions about Lord Darlington, his filial pride, his cherished “dignity”, until all that remains is Miss Kenton and what might have been. The story reaches its low-key climax in the quiet surroundings of a Cornish tea-room. I won’t spoil it for you, except to say that, here as elsewhere, what is not said makes all the difference.
Stevens comes from a tradition of personal service; his goal in life is to serve his employer to the best of his ability, and as we get to know him, we realise that this was his only goal: He allowed it to blind him to all of the other promises of life and any love in his life.