This is an outstanding novel narrated in first person by Stevens, the butler. Of him one could say was born for the job, after his father also dedicated his life to the service of other lords before he did. Stevens is a particular person. Loyalty would be the perfect word to describe his personality, but also a bit of a sweet naivety. He worked for many years at Darlington Hall, Lord Darlington’s estate.
The novel bases its plot on a letter sent to Stevens by Miss Kenton, the former housekeeper of Darlington Hall, right in a moment where things were changing so much. Darlington Hall had a new Lord, an American, Mr. Farraday, who was insisting that Stevens should take some holidays to go and travel around his beautiful country. But in Stevens mind, the letter arrived at the right time, as Darlington Hall was experiencing a shortage of experienced staff. The letter had some news from Miss Kenton, it looked that she was about to get a divorce, which Stevens interpreted as a subtill message of Miss Kenton wanting to come back to work at Darlington Hall.
Stevens crossed the country in Mr. Farraday fancy car looking for Miss Kenton. It was in this trip where he started reflecting at past events that he shared with Miss Kenton, especially at the time they both served to Lord Darlington. What is extremely impressive about this character is his unique way of seeing those events, all that he covered with a layer of denial, a denial that came from his own goodness. Some of the episodes were related to Lord Darlington’s guests at Darlington estate and the discussions that took over on those meetings. It was the 40s and politics around Europe were getting heated. Stevens saw his boss acquaintances as an effort to influence the course of the events that were going to take place soon after that. He saw that despite Lord Darlington being an intellectual, quiet man, he was inviting over people who were pro Nazis, making Stevens conclude that these incidents were just a compassionate show of affection due to the apparently unjust treatment of Germany in the Treaty of Versailles in WWI. It may had been true, Lord Darlington had good intentions, those of avoiding entirely WWII, but he was used by the Nazis who took advantage of his feelings for Germany to move along their agenda in England. However, Stevens noticed changes in Darlington Hall, one specifically, when his boss, moved by his new flame, a pro-Nazi, instructed Stevens to fire two young Jewish servants who had been working at the house for more than six years. This was not good news for Miss Kenton, who had a strong character herself, and considered the dismissal a true personal attack on her and her two young subordinates.
But Stevens never saw that. He rationalized every fact as a part of his job. Every instruction was obeyed, immediately, without further consideration. Not even when he reflected of these events was Stevens remorseful, not even when his father was dying in the room above, there, in Darlington Hall. There was a moment in which Miss Kenton and other members of the service called him several times in desperation to joying his father in his last hours. He simply thought that his father —a former butler himself— would be happier if he remained performing his duties. It was a busy day at Darlington Hall, a major negotiation was taking place between political representatives of Germany, England, United States. Stevens was making miracles to please everybody’s egos so he thought he could not abandon his place.
As for Miss Kenton, I tend to disagree with other reviewers about her relationship with Stevens. It is clear to me that Miss Kenton was in love with the butler. But it was not mutual. What Stevens felt for her was mix of respect and appreciation, especially for her outstanding skills as a housekeeper. Stevens was never conscious of Miss Kenton infatuation for him. Not when they worked together and Miss Kenton constantly came to his private room to bring flowers. He actually thought about it to be a total invasion of his privacy. Not when she pointed at his romantic readings, which he was embarrassed to admit it was only a tool that allowed him to improve his butler vocabulary. Not even did he notice her love when she suddenly announced she was getting married when someone she just had met. Her fury was truly justified when he only answered ‘congratulations Miss Kenton’.
Years later, and driving Mr. Farraday’s car through those magnificent English landscapes he was seeing for the first time, Stevens dreamt about the proximate encounter with Miss Kenton. In her letter, she implied she was getting divorced. He saw it as an opportunity to propose Miss Kenton to go back to work at Darlington Hall. He was disappointed of that meeting, as she explained that she was not going back to the service. She was getting back together with her husband. She said this with disappointment too. It was a sadness that Stevens quite not fully understood.
Book a 100% recommended. Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors of all times. He enriches the English literature. He changes subjects in his books not leaving a single trace of patterns, characters of thoughts. He is absolutely outstanding.