Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

This novel is set in the early part of the twentieth century and is the story of Stevens, butler to Lord Darlington. It takes the form of his reminisces as he takes a driving holiday in the south west of England. This seems to be the first holiday he has had in years, if at all, and the freedom from responsibility he has for a few days allows his mind to wander.
Darlington Hall is the scene of much political intrigue in the years leading up to the Second World War. Lord Darlington is at the centre of pro-German sentiment in political circles. This pro-German sentiment becomes pro-Nazi sentiment. Stevens is aware of this but sees his role as so clearly defined that he is unable to form any opinion about what is happening. His role is to serve Lord Darlington and to his mind this means absolute obedience. This way of thinking seems to have stunted Steven's capacity for independant thought at all, and his devotion to his employer leaves no space for other relationships. His friendship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton, is a long episode of misunderstandings and repressed feelings.
I thought this was a lovely book. The characters are full of depth and we see both their merits and their faults. Lord Darlington could very easily be portrayed as a monster, but we see him as a naive and misguided man who is hidebound by class prejudices and manipulated by people much cleverer than him. Stevens is a character who I wanted to shake out of his complacency, but at the same time I felt tremendous sympathy for him. His domineering father was very influential in his life and probably that's where the seeds of his unquestioning loyalty lay.
It is a lovely, thoughtful book and I really enjoyed reading it. I think I will return to it in the future because I think it is so layered that new aspects of it would emerge with a re-read.