Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

…For What Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day fulfills every requirement I have for a novel; interesting characters with depth, description, a bit of mystery.  It is a big bonus that it feels as if it could be made very easily into an episode of Downton Abbey (which I am addicted to) if a few names were changed.

Highclere_Castle

We are introduced to Stevens, the perfect servant.  He has been the butler at Darlington Hall for nearly forty years, has in essence, devoted his entire life to the service of the Hall- in the person of first Lord Darlington and then to the new American owner of the Hall, Mr. Farraday.  The story begins with Stevens taking a short holiday from his job (likely for the first time in his life), by driving through western England from Darlington Hall to the southwest coast to visit a Ms. Kenton, a former housekeeper of Darlington Hall and a woman who has kept up a correspondence with Stevens for many years.  As Stevens drives through the countryside he reflects on his life, and more is revealed to the reader.

The novel is deceptively slim, but Ishiguro packs it full of various themes; it is dense with colonialism, comments on class structure, love and denial, status and dignity.  In 1956 Stevens is one of the last of a dying breed, a servant in a great house.  Even “serving his lord” has irrevocably changed; the last lord has died and Stevens is now employed by “new money” in the person of a rich American businessman who has purchased the Hall.  The upper class in Britain that Stevens devoted his life to is dying.  The British Empire is in tatters, soon to be almost completely dissolved.

Stevens often reflects on the past, particularly the 1920′s when Lord Darlington was alive.  He remembers overseeing a vast Hall, many banquets and events, and dozens of servants.  Various threads of memory slowly weave together.  There was the possibility of romance with Ms. Kenton that, although danced around, was never acknowledged by either party.  There is Stevens respect for his father, also a butler, and his influence upon Stevens own life.  Most of all there is Stevens’ devotion to Lord Darlington and the family name- even after the lord is dead and many years have passed Stevens still wants to protect his name (Darlington supported talks between the German and British governments before WWII, and many took this to mean he supported the Nazis).

In the end Stevens meets Ms. Kenton (many years married) and they drink tea together in typical English fashion.  Although feelings are finally admitted to, the afternoon ends with Ms. Kenton returning home and Stevens beginning back to Darlington Hall.  Acknowledging how things might have been different, but accepting his life for what it is, Stevens decides to continue to live as he always has; to live out what remains of his days.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; it is so tightly written with never a word too much or too little.  Characters are drawn to perfection.  Despite what would seem only a mildly interesting story- the life of a butler- the plotting is perfection, and I was always anticipating what would be revealed next.  If it still sounds “boring” read the parts where Stevens practices “witty banter”, or when he is sent to instruct Lord Darlington’s godson on sex- its pure gold.

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