Oh, Mr. Stevens. A tragic hero if ever there was one. As a butler to a great house of Britain, he kept his eyes to the floor while the ravages of post-WWI Europe came to a boiling point in the halls of his dear Darlington Hall.
Kazuo Ishiguro is a master of quiet suffering. His characters come to slow, stark, and utterly devastating conclusions just a moment before the enormity of their despair hits the reader. The Remains of the Day is arguably his most celebrated book (having a lauded motion picture adaptation featuring Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, and a joint Merchant Ivory Production stamp probably didn’t hurt), but it was the only piece of his catalog that I’d yet to read. It, of course, lulled me into a creeping green fug of British melancholy. My favorite kind of melancholy. Never Let Me Go is perfect, The Buried Giant is unimpeachable, and now I can agree with those who have (rightfully) lauded The Remains of the Day since it debuted back in 1989.
Mr. Stevens is a man of specifics, and he holds himself and those around him to his very specific standards, but his beliefs are, despite his grand thoughts on dignity, are so very sad and small outside of the polished corridors of Darlington Hall. His little life just breaks my heart.
“What is the point of worrying oneself too much about what one could or could not have done to control the course one’s life took? Surely it is enough that the likes of you and I at least try to make our small contribution count for something true and worthy. And if some of us are prepared to sacrifice much in life in order to pursue such aspirations, surely that in itself, whatever the outcome, cause for pride and contentment.”