*this review contains some discussion of the whole plot of the novel. They aren’t really spoilers though because it’s not that sort of book. But you may want to avoid reading my review until you’ve read it*
Remains of the Day is a quiet, subtle novel about dedicating your life to a profession and the realisation that this might not have been the best way to live your life. At least that’s what I took away from it after finishing the book. It’s a very gentle rad, but I really enjoyed the journey.
Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, is going on his first short driving holiday, to the West Country. While he’s there he is going to visit Miss Kenton, an old housekeeper of Darlington Hall. He’s hoping she will come back to work with him. It is 1956 and he’s been the butler at Darlington Hall for 30 years.
While he travels he reminisces about the glory days of Darlington Hall, and when he considers he was at the peak of his profession. This was between the world wars when the Lord of the house was involved in international politics and therefore the house was often busy, and visited by important people. It transpires that Lord Darlington’s efforts became an embarrassment in later years, due to his sympathetic attitude to Germany and his association with right wing extremists. Stevens is unwaveringly loyal to Lord Darlington and sees this as a measure of his professionalism.
So much of this novel is gained from what is not said. Stevens reminisces touch on his definition of dignity and how this has shaped his behaviour in life. He never allowed himself to be ‘off-duty’ unless he was alone. This affected his relationships, or rather lack of them, throughout his life.
The discoveries he makes about himself, as he reminisces on his driving holiday, are completely heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this novel and it’s very quiet style and would quietly recommend it.