A couple years ago, I watched Never Let Me Go and was struck by how wonderful it was. I’m not one to read a book after I’ve seen the movie, so I looked into other books that Ishiguro had written. By far, The Remains of the Day was the most recommended and highest reviewed. I bought it, and then promptly forgot about it until… about three days ago.
Though it didn’t take me long to read the book (it’s fairly short), I have to say that I just didn’t quite get it. It’s incredibly well-written, of course. Ishiguro does an excellent job of painting a picture of the English countryside and Darlington Hall, but I couldn’t get past how robotic Mr. Stevens was – and, yes, I understand that this was the point.
Mr. Stevens is your stereotypical English butler. He prides himself on his dignity as a butler, aiding his employer in every way possible, even when he ends up insulting himself or doing something counterproductive in the process. He fails to understand why one would ‘banter’ with one’s employer, devoting several long, tedious pages to trying to determine what situations might call for banter and how one is to determine the appropriate level of banter in a response while avoiding offense. (He also always refers to himself as ‘one,’ sometimes several times in one sentence. It is very frustrating.)
At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Stevens has just received a letter from Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. In her letter, he feels that she’s expressing regret at the path she chose for her life, maybe even regretting her marriage and hoping for her former job back. He takes a road trip through the English countryside to meet up with her, philosophizing on what it means to be a good butler and reminiscing about the political events his former employer was involved in.
In the end, nothing really happens aside from tangent after tangent after tangent. I felt like the hours I’d spent reading this book had been wasted due to the lack of plot. This book is extremely well-written, but unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for it. Maybe I’m just missing something, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many people love this book.
Final rating: ★★☆☆☆