Uptight British butler takes road trip, realizes he hasn’t always made good decisions.
Sounds thrilling, right? Normally I wouldn’t have ever picked a book based on that description, but The Remains of the Day was really interesting. Mr. Stevens, the main character, is a fiercely loyal, dedicated butler. He constantly questions what it means to be a “great butler,” and he not-so-subtly implies that he is one.
As the story progresses, though, you realize that even though Stevens might have been a great butler, his personal choices don’t always reflect that greatness. Stevens seems honest and dependable, but by the end of the first section you realize you can’t trust his recollections and memories–sometimes he deliberately hides the truth to make himself look better (English major moment: Ishiguro does an awesome job at creating a narrator who is constantly going back to the past and editing his memories, something we all do).
But no butler can compare with everyone’s favorite butler, Mr. Carson of Downton Abbey.
If you’re like me, and you don’t know what you’ll do without the Crawley family and their army of servants and subplots, finding a Downton-esque book might help ease the pain. The Remains of the Day has a lot of the same themes as the final season of Downton, even though the novel and the TV show are set some thirty years apart. It’s amazing to me to see how closely the writers of Downton follow the main themes of the day–the breakup of large landed estates, the changing nature of the middle class–it’s all in Downton, and it’s all in Ishiguro’s novel. Carson and Stevens are both loyal to their employers, they both value the dignity of their position and their houses, but Carson is a sweetheart and Mr. Stevens is, well, not.
I’m thinking of compiling a list of Downton-esque books to help me deal with the sadness of the series being over soon. If you’ve never watched the show, I can’t recommend it highly enough, and if you want to read more about the final season 😦 of Downton Abbey, check out this wonderful recap of the first episode written by my talented friend Elizabeth. I love reading Elizabeth’s blog because we are such kindred spirits. Check it out!