Oh, this book. This. Book. I just finished reading The Remains of the Day about 10 minutes ago, and I find myself feeling beautifully sated by gorgeous prose, and also deeply, deeply melancholy. The premise is simple, but the novel itself packs such a punch that I found myself reading slowly to soak it all in. I’ve read it before, but since this is making up half of my next dissertation chapter, I went through another read.
The novel opens with Stevens, the butler at Darlington Hall, about to embark on a road trip to see his former colleague, the former housekeeper Mrs. Benns, nee Kenton. As he motors throughout the English countryside, we find that while he is now in the employ of American Mr. Farraday, he used to, in fact, be the butler for Lord Darlington, a true English noble who had rather questionable taste in foreign policy. Through the narration of Stevens, we find a dark underbelly of sympathies exercised towards the nascent Third Reich and a sense of anti-Semitism that spoils even the most benevolent and generous of men.
I realize the premise seems dull. But really, the prose is incredible. Ishiguro completely inhabits the figure of Stevens in order to critique the hierarchical systems that undermined countless men and women and upheld an impossible class system that was based largely on the illusion of authority. He also creates a man so bent on becoming the perfect professional that he does not realize until it’s far, far too late that he has passed up his lone chance of personal domestic happiness.
It’s gut-wrenching stuff. And also one of my favorite books of all time. It’s deceptively simple but crazily complex. If Downton Abbey ever made you nostalgic for the “good old days,” Ishiguro posits a deeply unsentimental counterpart in the sentimental guise of Stevens. How is that not completely brilliant?