CBRBingo: White Whale
My local book club is reading classics this year, and this was our April selection. I had seen the movie with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson back in the 90s, but had never read the book, even though I had it in my huge Unread folder on my Kindle.
This book is a master class on subtlety, the story of a man who inhabits a role that is increasingly out of place in his world. A butler, son of a butler, he served in a great house with a titled master before the war. And now, in the aftermath, the house has been sold to an American who expects him to be able to banter, and the class structures he was conditioned to uphold are crumbling.
Stevens has been granted use of his new master’s car to go on a motoring holiday, and sets off through the west country to visit Miss Kenton, now Mrs Benn, who was housekeeper at Darlington House during the glory years of the 1930s. He tells himself the purpose of the visit is to ask her to return to work, as her professionalism is just what his staff plan is lacking. But it is clear that his feelings for Miss Kenton run far deeper, as he struggles to keep them below the surface.
As he journeys through the English countryside Stevens’ mind turns back to his heyday as a butler, his time with Miss Kenton, the years when Lord Darlington entertained his German friends. He takes comfort in the pride he feels in his professionalism, his emotional restraint, his all encompassing commitment to his role.
Will he find the courage to tell Miss Kenton, or even tell himself, how he really feels? Will he be able to “cease looking back so much … adopt a more positive attitude and try to make the best of what remains of [his] day”?