I have had this author on my TBR for years now, probably ever since I saw the movie adaption of this book a decade ago. He’s famous for many novels, but none looked quite so interesting as this one.
The movie, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, came out in 1993 and is an absolutely beautiful film. Saying that, it’s been years since I’ve seen it, so whether it is an entirely accurate adaptation I cannot recall. It is still a great movie which I really want to watch again.
Anyway, I finally got to read the book (or, in this case, I listened to it on audiobook) and wow was I impressed!
Synopsis: (from Goodreads because it sums up the story perfectly) “In the summer of 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealised love between the butler and his housekeeper.”
This book is beautiful to read, filled with old British traditions and still relevant political debates. Although the story is told entirely from Stevens perspective, we get a view of most every person visiting the house, from the housekeeper to the prime minister of England. Saying that, Stevens is an entirely unreliable narrator, twisting things oddly to suit his prim and proper attitude and obsessive pride. This story is more of an examination of different characters, especially of Stevens himself, against the backdrop of early 20th century England. It is also a quite serious story, so much so that I found myself getting depressed as Stevens constantly chose his job over his own happiness.
Even when his own father is dying upstairs, he is too busy waiting on the guests of his employer. Similarly, Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, was hardly subtle in trying to grow close to him, and yet he put up walls only his job could climb. It was frustrating to see how unhappy so many of the characters turned out because of their decisions in life, even if they had the noblest of motives.
But that is, as Stevens comments himself at the end, the way life works. We cannot turn back times, and redo things we regret. We can only look to the future and, as Stevens says, “make the best of what remains of my day.”
My one and main complaint about this book is that it jumps around a lot. Since it follows forty years of Stevens life, from the teens to the fifties, there are a lot of times Stevens recalls an incident without really indicating when it is. I understand that this is in his memory, and memory rarely works in chronological order, and yet that does not help the confused reader any more. I would assume an entire section was set in the 1940s only to learn much later that it was set in the 1920s. It didn’t make me dislike the story, but it did lessen my enjoyment slightly.
There is something very introspective about this book which made me question my own existence (though I am only a fraction of Stevens’s age). The idea that we are going through life, not realizing how things we push aside now will lead to unhappiness down the road. How our obsession in keeping with our beliefs and not adapting might be detrimental to our own future, and the future of those we care about.
This is the type of story which will get you thinking, and I have a feeling that is exactly what Ishiguro was aiming out.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I will have to read more books by Ishiguro.
Have you read or heard of this book? Have you read any of Ishiguro’s other books? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,
Best wishes in your life full of adventure,