The Remains of the Day
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Opening in July 1956, the story is told by Mr Stevens - a butler approaching the end of his career. He has been based at Darlington Hall for many years and, for most of his time there, had served Lord Darlington. While the outside world has changed dramatically since Stevens started out as a butler, the changes within the walls are proving a little more difficult for him. Following the death of Lord Darlington a few years previously, the stately home is now in the hands of an American called Farraday. Unsurprisingly, Farraday is a great deal less formal than Lord Darlington and Stevens isn't quite sure how to relate to his new boss. Furthermore, when once there were twenty-eight members of staff at Darlington Hall, there are now only four. Sections of the house have now been put 'under wraps' - effectively closed down - with fairly radical alterations to what would have been each person's 'traditional' responsibilities. Stevens has become rather worried when some small errors creep into his own work - these, he feels, stem from the slightly flawed staff plan he developed.
Stevens is taken by surprise when his new employer suggests he takes some time off and borrows the car - to the point he, initially, doesn't take the suggestion seriously. However, he starts to change his mind when he receives a letter from Miss Kenton, Darlington Hall's former housekeeper - the first time in seven years he'd heard from her. Technically, Miss Kenton has been Mrs Benn since she left Darlington Hall in 1936 - though it seems, her marriage has recently ended. In her letter she spoke of her time at the Hall as the happiest period in her life and, reading between the lines, Stevens believes she may be willing to return as a member of staff - an appointment, he believes, that would iron out the kinks in his staff plan. Accordingly, having organised a meeting with his former colleague, Stevens takes a road trip to the West Country. "The Remains of the Day" follows Stevens on his trip and, as he looks forward to his meeting with Miss Kenton, he looks back on their shared times together at Darlington Hall.
Stevens proves to be a very stiff, formal, nearly snobbish character - one who has become quite obsessed with 'dignity'. He (rather ridiculously) believes that only the English are capable of 'emotional restraint' required to being butlers - though, as time goes on, it becomes clear that Stevens' emotional restraint has cost him more than he cares to admit. His memories of Miss Kenton tend to focus on professional matters, and - while it began and ended a little badly - for many years, it seems they had got on quite well. Stevens' memories, of course, only tell half of that story. Lord Darlington, naturally, also features strongly in his memories. Stevens had been blindly loyal to Lord Darlington - under no circumstances would he disagree ever disagree with his lordship's decisions, publicly or privately. Darlington had fought in the First World War, though - being an honourable gentleman - believed the Treaty of Versailles was excessively harsh on the German people. He had become an important figure in the period between the wars - and, having played host to many influential people during this time, had even tried to shape Britain's foreign policy towards Germany. Unsurprisingly, his reputation has been in tatters since the Second World War. Stevens still feels Lord Darlington was a well-meaning man, though perhaps misguided - though still denies having worked for him several times during the book.
Ishiguro's books are definitely better than most you'll find on the bookshelves, and many people seem to rate this as his best to date. Personally, I think he's done better - particularly with "When We Were Orphans" and "Never Let Me Go". However, "The Remains of the Day" is certainly a worth reading and, despite Stevens' stiffness, it was hard not to feel sorry for him come the end of the book.
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Left on a bench just outside Entrance C, during the interval of the Cara Dillon show.
CAUGHT IN BELFAST IRELAND