Stevens, an elderly English butler, has served at Darlington Hall for the last three decades. After the demise of Lord Darlington, Darlington Hall is bought by a genial American, Mr. Farraday, and the novel opens with Stevens deciding to go on a holiday at Mr. Farraday’s insistence. On the road from Oxfordshire to Cornwall, he ruminates upon the long years of service he gave to Lord Darlington, a prominent in British politics in 1930, and draws the history and current state of affairs at the great house. As he reflects upon the past, Stevens, who has sought all his life to embody the ideals of his profession –service, composure, dignity, and loyalty – is forced to look at the implications of his choices and decisions, and in a moment of heartbreaking comprehension, he realizes that his life-long dealings were mistaken, and in the end, empty of “dignity”.
“The Remains of the Day” takes place during the years leading up to World War II, and much of it considers Lord Darlington’s response to various climaxes of the war, specifically the Treaty of Versailles, which he felt unfairly punished Germany, and which ultimately made him a Nazi collaborator.
‘The Remains of the Day’ is told from a first person point of view. It is narrated by Stevens in the form of a diary in which he interweaves his reminiscences of the glory days of Darlington Hall with his current thoughts about the encounters during his motoring trip, and all the while, he agonizes over questions of ‘dignity’, and what makes a “great butler”. In telling the narrative of his life, Stevens unconsciously discloses smaller details that suggest at greater themes lurking underneath, and the reader gathers a different version of the story than what Stevens intends to tell. Ishiguro’s writing is rich, subtle and delicate, and the fact that he manages to make us feel and understand so much from a narrator who says so little is what makes ‘The Remains of the day’ a great piece of writing.
‘The Remains of the Day’ is a unique read. It is not an action-packed plot. Likewise, the love interest is so understated that I sometimes think that I might not have picked up on it if I hadn't been tipped off in advance. Yet, it is a tale that is gripping, compelling, and in the end, heartbreaking. I took great pleasure in being drawn into Ishiguro’s unhurried narration of a tale so brutal. What happens if you spend your life in well-meaning and faithful service to a cause that ultimately turns out to be unworthy, even fraudulent? Simple and devastating, “The Remains of the Day” left me aching for Stevens. It is, in my opinion, a terrific read.
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