This soul-searing novel was turned into a much-feted film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson in the early 90s, which I remember watching in the cinema upon its release. I was already very fond of stories mired in the past when in my teen years, and I remember convincing my friend Serena that we should totally see this instead of Wayne’s World 2.
She was not amused.
It’s not that she didn’t like the movie. It was poignant and weirdly intense, and it certainly made us feel very grown up. But when you are in high school, the restrained and angst-ridden not-quite-romance between a largely oblivious career butler and the housekeeper he doesn’t know he loves, all set against the background of looming fascism in 1930s Europe, isn’t exactly the sexiest story ever.
Reading it now, told in first person by Mr. Stevens as he reflects on his storied career at Darlington Hall, it isn’t much sexier, but it is even more poignant. From Stevens’s complete inability to communicate his true feelings with anyone, to his apologia for his employer’s political foibles, to his excessive pride hidden behind impeccable manners, Stevens is a fascinating central character.
His often fractious dealings with Miss Kenton, at first a newly appointed housekeeper at Darlington who stays for nigh on a decade and clearly somehow falls for the austere Stevens, is detailed sparingly, but exactingly, and as their history is slowly revealed through reminiscence you want to reach into the book and shake Stevens by his dignified shoulders and shout, “Dude, she is totally into you, man! And you’re into her! Do something about it!”
But their romance is not the point of this book. Nor even is the social change brought about by World War II that saw the huge staff Stevens once commanded decimated, and the Hall bought by an American. Instead, it is about one man’s single-minded sense of purpose, and how it is so easy to effectively become your job if you don’t pay attention to work/life balance.
And, also, it is about a road trip, and the kindness of strangers, and the concept of “famous” butlers. And, somewhat oppressively, it is about class.
It is just excellent.
And I think I need to watch that movie again. I think I might find it a bit sexier now.
TBR DAY 300: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
GENRE: General Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~15 years.
PURCHASED FROM: Borders Singapore.