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29. 12. 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro - The Remains of the Day (Soumrak dne)

      I finished this ages ago. Only by then I was so sick of looking at the screen that I kept putting off writing this post until I forgot it. But behold! Deadlines are miraculous things.

      I've already read two other Ishiguro's novels and I liked The Remains of the Day just as much as the other two. Also, I will probably never stop being amazed by some people's capacity to talk/write like the main character, Stevens, does in this novel - the overly elaborate, elegant style that in five sentences tells you less than I say in one. (Incidentally - what is the word for that?)
     So, it's 1956 and Stevens reminisces about his life that he spent as a butler in Lord Darlington's house. A wealthy American now owns the place and once grand house with lots of servants isn't what it used to be anymore. When Stevens gets the offer of a week off with a car at his disposal and at the same time receives a letter from Miss Kenton (actually now Mrs Benn), he decides to take up the offer and go visit her.
      This motoring trip. as he calls it, gives him much time to spend thinking about his past, his relationship with his father and with Miss Kenton and about his job and ultimately about whether his life was any good. These musings are narrated in first person and addressing someone, as if it is a long letter, although it's never stated to whom.
      Stevens is an extremely unreliable narrator. Or rather - that guy is really in denial. I think it's more a matter of deceiving himself than deliberately lying. What's more, whether he does that on purpose or his memory is actually failing him, he often confuses episodes he recollects and later amends to them or states they must have happened differently at a different time and so on.
      It seems that his entire life, he was striving to achieve what he understands makes a great butler - dignity. More particularly dignity in keeping with his position. That basically means occupying the role of a butler at all times unless he's completely alone, fulfilling his employers expectations, loyalty, and most of all never letting anything lose his composure. Oh, and also being attached to a distinguished household, that means one of some importance, where important things take place.
      At the beginning of his trip, Stevens gives the impression of being quite pleased with himself. He often repeats how some butlers have said of him he is one of the best and there can be no doubt Darlington Hall was a distinguished household, what with all the great people who gathered there after WW I. But his 'dignity' also has other results. For example when his father, also a butler, suffers a stroke and is dying in his room, Stevens isn't there with him because he has to attend to the guests. It actually pleases him, because it is a trial for his ability to keep his dignity at all times. Similarly, his attitude ruins his relationship with Miss Kenton. She used to work in Darlington Hall for a long time, meeting with Stevens every evening to discuss professional matters and chat. She tried to get closer to Stevens a few times but never got past his policy of never showing emotions. In the end, she gave up, got married and moved.
      While Stevens is on his way to visit Miss Kenton, he tries to convince himself it's because she may have hinted in her letter that she would like to come back to Darlington Hall, but the more he thinks about it and gets more anxious as he gets closer, he realizes there's more to it. When they do finally meet, Miss Kenton tells him she will stay with her husband, because that's her place and now it is too late. And in that moment, Stevens actually admits feeling his heart breaking.
      To top it off, all this reminiscing and a few incidents that happened during the trip make Stevens finally see, that the one thing that was a comfort to him all these years, his being a great butler in a distinguished household, isn't true either. Lord Darlington was once an important person influencing the future fate of Europe but sadly, his influencing consisted in making friends with the Germans after the WW I., an English nobleman being generous to a defeated foe. But as it all turned out, that wasn't really the way to go. And now not only does Stevens regret his blind loyalty and never questioning his employer's motives, he can't even say he served someone who spread the good in the world, and he's finally left with a feeling that his life has been for nothing.

     Quite a depressing story, but an excellent one.

1 komentář:

  1. Your review is spot on. I think this is easily one of the best books ever written (or at least, that I've read!). Not easy material, but it's handled so well and revealed with such subtle stages that understanding comes slowly. Glad you "got" it and enjoyed the tale.

    Can you send an e-mail to hotchpotcafe@gmail.com, so I can send you the book list? Since you finished your goal, you get to pick a book.