Has there ever been a more perversely English book?
From the paragraphs meandering around and telling the reader what in the narrator’s humble opinion makes a great butler to the descriptions of the unobtrusive beauty of the English countryside it somehow manages to be the saddest love story ever told. Also as my friend Lewis says: “it’s the best example of dramatic irony in contemporary literature.”
The narrator, Mr Stevens, is the ultimate tragic hero. He is so repressed that he doesn’t even know how to be honest with himself. His only identity is that of a butler and he had been wearing for so long that whatever personality he might have had is long gone. And morphing into his profession is what he twistedly defines as ‘dignity’ - the quality he admires most of all. And all we get are his monologues, monologues that frustrate us and depress us. This book should be unreadable, and yet it is a page turner. Not much happens, which is symptomatic to Mr Stevens’ life and yet this meticulous character study is so emotionally involving that even though I’m reviewing it a long time after finishing it, it is still very fresh in my mind and proves to me that those five stars I gave it were fully deserved.
All in all, it’s a cautionary tale – what if you wake up one day towards the end of your life and realise that you have wasted it, that all you believe to be good and true turned out to be a sham? Would you just plain deny it or would you just try to make the best of the remains of the day?