The Remains of the Day – Of love and the call of duty
I sat in a cafe and started reading. The prologue was long and required some concentration from me.
To discover that it was after all the story of a butler’s life, who worked for a certain English Lord, came as a surprise to me. For some unknown reason, I had expected the book to be about a passionate love affair, perhaps tragic. For that’s what a lot of famous works of literary fiction are woven around.
To me, The Remains of the Day is essentially a novel of restraint. And that is what makes the story beautiful. For not always in life, is love intense and mad and daring. Sometimes it just happens and passes while the two people have other important things in life to look at. Sometimes, the realization of love remains hidden within the deep recesses of one’s heart.
Mr. Stevens, an old English butler at Darlington Hall dedicates almost his entire life to his profession and serves his employer, Lord Darlington, with utmost loyalty. So much so that he doesn’t have time to get married, have children, or even stay with his father in his last moments.
Whereas, the young, volatile and proficient housekeeper, Miss Kenton goes on to get married, leaving her career and Mr. Stevens behind. Though the memories never leave her.
All this happens while matters and meetings of ‘global importance’ are happening in Darlington Hall, and Stevens, being a trusted employee, is privy to most of it. From Stevens’ point of view, the best he could do to serve his country was to serve, to the best of his capability, the gentlemen who ran it. And so he did.
The novel being set in the post-war Britain of 1930s and 1960s, the polite manner of speech became a little too much in the beginning. But later it was intriguing, even fun. Even in moments of extreme emotional upheaval, the characters maintain their polite speech, their composure, and dignity.
The world of the novel is quite different from ours today. It reflects a world plagued with war and how men of influence run it, manipulate it.
What’s also interesting is the protagonist and narrator Stevens’ habit of reminiscing over past events. So occupied is he by the tasks at hand, that only days, even years after the event has occurred, does he sit to think over it. Even his final meeting with Miss Kenton is recounted two days later. Such is the nostalgia and calm that looms over the novel. It is smooth sailing and how.
Someone told me once that they had found the novel to be utterly boring. Whereas to me, the restraint was the beauty of this entire story, that happened many years ago, in a foreign land. Ishiguro captivates with his simplicity.
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