Such cavernous silence. Ishiguro has built his reputation on leaving much unsaid and that is never more in evidence than here.
An ageing Butler takes a journey to the West Country under the guise of recruiting a former Housekeeper in whose unswerving professionalism he sees an opportunity to restore the grandeur of Darlington Hall. However, afforded the space and time to consider his life, he begins to reflect on the 1930s, when his master, the now discredited Lord Darlington, was an international dignitary hosting secret international conferences on the future of Europe. But he cannot disentangle his own responsibility from what took place under that roof. As he says “there are matters of global significance taking place upstairs and I must return to my post.” Was he culpable for the calamitous direction history took? Should we all take personal responsibility for the world around us?
For many, this is a heartbreaking evocation of old English etiquette as embodied by the emotionally stunted Butler, whose unswerving devotion leaves him on the cusp of a new age with nothing but the ‘remains of the day’. But do not feel sorry for him; there is much laudable in such restraint and dignity. Perhaps his is a message the modern world should listen to. For, as Edith Wharton remarked, “After all, there was good in the old ways.”
This is a novel in which one must press ones ear to the ground and listen hard. Ishiguro tells stories about thoroughly real characters living startlingly believable lives. The silence here is the silence of all our lives, for they will never be all we might wish of them.