” There is one situation and one situation only in which a butler who cares about his dignity may feel free to unburden himself of his role; that is to say, when he is entirely alone. You will appreciate then that in the event of Miss Kenton bursting in at a time when I had presumed, not unreasonably, that I was to be alone, it came to be a crucial matter of principle, a matter indeed of dignity, that I did not appear in anything less than my full and proper role. ” 
[Re-read] Seeping through beautiful and quiet prose is a profoundly compelling portrait of a first-rank English butler who is an effective, dedicated, but also a repressed servant. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive during which he looks back and reflects upon his career to reassure himself that, by abiding to principle and dignity, he has served humanity. A gentleman’s gentleman, Stevens is the epitome of courtesy and quiet skill when it comes to fulfilling his master’s needs.
There are certain members of our profession who would have it that it ultimately makes little difference what sort of employer one serves; who believe that the sort of idealism prevalent amongst our generation—namely the notion that we butlers should aspire to serve those great gentlemen who further the cause of humanity . . . 
Hindsight have, however, made the butler feel like one of history’s victims, as he comes to realize that he may have taken the wrong path. For the first time in decades, as he’s on a road trip to see Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), a former colleague with whom he was once in love (he never admits to her), that he was not aware of the full implications of what he was doing. Nor was he keen to her romantic intention. The perfect touch with which he goes about his duties, the obsession with which he maintains mannerisms and public personae—albeit at every turn invokes dignity, are merely a blind for his emotional constipation and moral failure. Once he was naive to assume “one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one’s relationship with Miss Kenton,” but the attempt to make amends for the mistakes and misunderstanding just comes a bit too late:
But that doesn’t mean . . . there aren’t occasions now and then—extremely desolate occasions—when you think to yourself: ‘What a terrible mistake I’ve made with my life.’ And you get to thinking about a different life, a better life you might have had. . . . After all, there’s no turning back the clock now. One can’t be forever dwelling on what you might have been. 
Subtly plotted, The Remains of the Day gives the impression that characters and scenes in the beautifully paced novel become no more than mouthpieces and backdrops for Ishiguro’s concern for the human condition: A desire to exceed one’s limitations. Not only is Stevens loyal to a fault, his former employer, Lord Darlington, however decent, honest, and well-meaning he was, was also playing a dangerous game by allowing himself to be used as a pawn in Hitler’s schemes. It’s only the benefit of hindsight that enables Stevens to see his master’s high ideals were just as toxic as immorality. Cleverly put together, the novel reads a dizzying dance and an emotional journey down memory lane.
245 pp. [Read/
Skim/ Toss] [Buy/ Borrow]