In the late 1950s, an ageing ‘real English’ butler decides to take a motoring tour of the English countryside. Stevens, as he is known, provides a sprawling, train-of-thought style narrative, wherein at first he talks simply about his menial day to day life; but as his journey unfolds, so too do the stories of his life.
The entire picture of Stevens is evoked mainly through his ridiculously English way of speaking (using lots of ‘rather’s, ‘indeed’s, and plenty of over-polite beating about the bush). His voice is strong and the rest of his demeanor just follows naturally from it. Stevens’ thoughts are sometimes hilarious, sometimes pitiful and sometimes philosophical – but never boring. He is so reserved and uptight, in fact, that it is sometimes difficult to tell if he is simply avoiding talking about his feelings or does not recognize them in himself. Stevens is preoccupied with the discovery of a true definition of the word ‘dignity’, and through this obsession comes to justify his decisions and actions in his life. But will he, or does he ever understand and accept his emotions?
I found this little book vastly entertaining, and delighted in reading certain passages aloud in a posh English voice. It is a little sigh of a novel really – quiet, restrained and sensitive but fleshing out such a whole and accurate portrait of a man who has come to a time in his life where he is questioning everything, and looking backwards rather than looking forwards. I am too young to know truly what that feels like, but I can only assume that such a period will grip us all at one stage in our lives. Stevens can’t be sure he’s made the right choices in his life – and neither can any of us, for how would we ever know? But eventually we must all decide what to do with the remains of our days. Live them in grey nostalgic comas? Or make the most of everything we do have…?