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"The Remains of the Day" by Kazuo Ishiguro

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This is the story of the butler Stevens, who grasps impossibly late at a love he discovers could have been his. Written in the stilted, convoluted, impervious-to-intimacy language of Stevens’s thought processes, “The Remains of the Day” chronicles a brief period near the end of our sad hero’s life: he takes several days off from his position at a great English country house to drive partway across the country to see his old co-worker Miss Kenton.

It becomes clear through a series of reminiscences that Miss Kenton in her proper way offered affection, and more, to Stevens, when she was on the household staff with him. Stevens plain doesn’t see it; this sort of thing is alien to him. In any event he ignores her.
The two served Lord Darlington, a prominent politician during World War II. One strong undercurrent in Stevens’s and Miss Kenton’s conflict is their master’s affinity for Nazi Germany. Lord Darlington sets up an ill-fated conference at the estate to try to influence the British Government in favor of the Nazis. It is shortly after this that Miss Kenton leaves Lord Darlington’s employ, Lord Darlington is disgraced in the wake of the War, the home comes into the hands of an American and the staff is cut to the barest bones. The American gentleman, Mr. Farraday, banters playfully with Stevens, who, ever the loyal servant, struggles to appreciate the humor and possibly add his own repartee. Farraday at length makes Stevens take a short leave from the house, he should take the Ford and go for a drive. The drive is the narrative backdrop, as Stevens tries figuratively to leave his rigid self and travel across a county or two to see Miss Kenton.

The fascist undertone to Stevens’s employment is extremely important to Mr. Ishiguro’s point here. Stevens is one of literature’s supreme fascists – he represses his own feelings ruthlessly and refuses to countenance anyone else’s; it simply isn’t in the job description, this emotional stuff. Miss Kenton’s departure from the estate comes about at least partly because of Stevens’s fastness on this point. With her departure go Stevens’s chances at joy.

Mr. Ishiguro’s impeccable diction, which laces the novel up tightly; the conceit of the English manor and its Lord’s fascist tendencies (perfectly symbolizing Stevens’s closely-held emotions); the narrative action in which Stevens takes a break and drives away so late in life to find love’s potential – these all lend depth and greatness to his deservedly praised novel. Take up and enjoy! Repeat as desired! I know I will.
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