This masterful story takes place as the main character, Mr Stevens drives across the English countryside to reunite with an old colleague, Miss Keaton. Stevens is the devoted butler at Darlington Hall, a once established aristocratic estate recently purchased by an American. During Steven's journey, his relationship to Miss Keaton, to his former employer Lord Darlington and the "turning points" of his life are revealed. This is a complex and profoundly moving story. As readers, we are at once sympathetic and immensely frustrated by Mr Stevens. His life is guided by his fundamental desire to have dignity and this desire is both admirable and prideful. As he strives to be a greater butler, consistently professional, he leaves his personal life further and further behind. Miss Keaton, who is not as complex a character as Stevens waits patiently for Stevens to acknowledge his feelings for her. She bates him throughout the story with tantrums, threats and teasing and is so close to success that we too are willing to wait til the very end of the story, ever hopeful that he will tear off his armor of dignity so as not to make "whole dreams forever irredeemable."
The story is set in England throughout WWI and WWII, with the significant plot development taking place between the wars. The aristocracy of England, it's values and it's influence on the country is at its peak. Darlington Hall is the "hub" of that influence and Lord Darlington passionately and sincerely hopes to help international affairs with his privileged position. His actions will define his own life, Steven's life, the life of the estate, of the country and even of Europe. The responsibility of his choices and evaluations are enormous. In addition to its plot and thematic importance, Ishiguro gives us a vivid and intricate description of aristocratic life and the servants that support it.
Told in first person narrative the writing style brilliantly illustrates one of its essential themes. Stevens is narrator of the story as he is butler of the house and as such he is in the unique position of knowing all that goes on around him. However, he is also a character in the story just as he is a man within the house. And as a man and a character he is blinded by his subjective point of view. He stands in the shadows of the banquet hall, entrusted to all secrets. The guests are unaware of or unobstructed by his presence while outside the door his personal life is obscured from his view. Stevens knows all that happens within the estate, but is unable to acknowledge what happens within his own heart. His steadfast desire to be a professional prevents him from participating in his life as a man.
The Remains of the Day is a brilliant novel which I find myself unable to stop analyzing. Like Stevens, I return to the turning points of his life and contemplate their significance. The universal themes of living a meaningful life, fearing exposure and striving toward virtue are developed complexly and beautifully. In addition, the themes of personal responsibility, risk taking and self-deception make this book a tremendous read.
Book Reviewed By Carole Weed
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