I’m really not sure why it took me so long to finish this one. For whatever reason (busy at work, fatigue, general laziness), I ended up slogging through this for the most part (with short intervals of prolonged, fast reading in between). Usually, if it takes me so long to finish a book it’s because I don’t like it or it sucks, but I think maybe it just took me a while to get used to the pacing and language. I haven’t read a book like this in a while (it’s mostly been YA fiction and sci-fi/fantasy for me lately) so perhaps my brain was just being stubborn about changing gears. And that sucks because this was an amazing book and I really wish I could've sat down and focused so that I could really appreciate it. This is definitely one that I will have to revisit in the future.
This is a beautiful, poignant memoir that unconsciously exposes and examines the fallibility and naiveté of man. Ishiguro does an excellent job of placing the reader in the mind of Stevens as he journeys across the English countryside on a driving trip to visit an old co-worker, Miss Kenton. I was very impressed with how real Stevens (and especially his mind) became in my own mind. The way he would go through things, thinking about them and turning them over and over in his head, continuing to be oblivious to what an outside observer would have noticed right away (but Stevens is blind to it, just as most people are to what should be obvious to them), it’s just the perfect portrait of human nature. I alternated between being exasperated by Stevens and being charmed by him. In the end, even though he tries to be the closest to perfect as he possibly can, Stevens is flawed just like the rest of us and he has to come to terms with that and learn to be okay with it.
Throughout the book, Stevens is infatuated with what makes a ‘great’ butler, and in Stevens' mind dignity is a main factor. According to dictionary.com, “dignity” means:
He believes that the most important concept to grasp and exemplify (especially if you are going to be a worthy butler) is dignity. In Stevens' eyes, his father and few other butlers have ever mastered and embodied being truly dignified, and they are Stevens’ role models. I've never really thought about dignity (especially not to the extent that Stevens does), but his passion for it really makes me want to rethink the way I portray myself and try to be better. I think the key is not to over think it and let it become an obsession as Stevens does.1. bearing, conduct, or speech indicative of self-respect or appreciation of the formality or gravity of an occasion or situation.
2. nobility or elevation of character; worthiness: dignity of sentiments.
3. elevated rank, office, station, etc.
I think my favorite part of the book is when Stevens finally allows his dignified, put-together facade to fall for just a moment and finally say how he feels. He's like a robot for almost the entire book and you have to rely on the other characters' responses to him to figure out how he's acting and feeling. For example, when someone asks him repeatedly, "are you okay, Stevens, do you need to sit down?" You know that he's having a rough time. Stevens would never let you (or anyone else in the book) know that himself - he believes that one should always be composed and professional, so he never allows himself to just be human. That is, until he is finally talking with Miss Kenton and says:
That just broke my heart. Like I said, a beautiful, beautiful novel. I think this Ishiguro fellow just may become one of my favorite authors."I do not think I responded immediately, for it took me a moment or two to fully digest these words of Miss Kenton. Moreover, as you might appreciate, their implications were such as to provoke a certain degree of sorrow within me. Indeed - why should I not admit it? - at that moment, my heart was breaking."