Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Published May 1989 by Faber and Faber
Source: purchased this one with my own dollars
Stevens, the perfect butler, and of his fading, insular world in post-World War II England. Stevens, at the end of three decades of service at Darlington Hall, spending a day on a country drive, embarks as well on a journey through the past in an effort to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving the “great gentleman,” Lord Darlington. But lurking in his memory are doubts about the true nature of Lord Darlington’s “greatness,” and much graver doubts about the nature of his own life.
I have been meaning to read this book since I saw the movie adaptation and realized it was based on a book. Last year I finally picked up a copy but then, as with almost every classic book I own. When I realized, at the end of 2019, that I had only read 3, yes 3, classic books all year, I decided I needed to kick off 2020 with a classic and I consider this one a modern classic.
Because I saw the movie before I read the book, I read the entire book hearing Hopkins' voice as Stevens. I was impressed with Hopkins performance when I saw that movie; having now read the book, I'm even more impressed with the way he perfectly captured Stevens in a way I'm not sure any other actor could have.
How to make this quiet, introspective book sound interesting, though, for those of you who may not have seen the movie, who may wonder how a book about a middle-aged man reflecting on his life as an English butler might be worth picking up? I did what I always do when I'm in a quandary like this - I hit the internet to see what people smarter than me had to saw about the book. I was more than a little surprised to find that not all of the reviews were glowing. And not in the way of "too slow moving for me" or "I just didn't get it."
Kirkus Reviews, for example, had this to say: "...yet there is something doomed about Ishiguro's effort to enlist sympathy for such a self-censoring stuffed shirt, and in the end he can manage only a small measure of pathos for his disappointed servant." What? How could you not feel pathos for a man who has spent his entire life trying to live up to a certain standard, who has spent decades believing he was serving a man worth his admiration, who suddenly discovers that he has wasted his life? But this is Kirkus and I so often disagree with them that I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The people who award the Man Booker Prize disagreed, I guess, since they gave the book their award in 1989.
I'm with the Man Booker Prize people.
It's not a long book but also not a book you can race through. You may feel like it's slow going, as you read. But it's important to pay attention, to absorb what you're reading. You are watching a man wake up to what his life has really been, what he has lost, and what he can do to make his life better. I'm so happy to have started the year with this book; it has set the tone for my reading this year.