Top positive review
136 people found this helpful
One of the 20th Century's best novels
on 30 January 2001
This book has the ability not only to make you feel deeply moved by its main protagonists but to re-evaluate your own life, relationships and values. It explores the break down in communications between individuals of "opposite" sex, social class and nationality and the pressure to conform to moral, social and political standards at the expense of natural feelings. The hero Stevens, a butler, represses his feelings so much that he cannot or will not admit his attraction to housekeeper Miss Kenton. His obsession with the "role" of butler and archaic notion of "Dignity" creates a barrier between them which neither is able to break down. The frustration for the reader is that the truth is there so plain to see, narrated by Stevens himself, and there are many opportunities for them to connect; when Steven's father dies; when Miss Kenton receives a proposal of marriage, but the hard shell of reserve the butler builds around himself never cracks. Tradition and reputation remain more important than his happiness. Meanwhile this small drama is played out against the backdrop of the British government appeasement of Hitler's burgeoning German Nazi party just before WWII, where, paralleling the difficulties in communication within the domestic staff, His Lordship tries to bring European leaders together for the best, but misguided, reasons. There are so many powerful episodes and touching scenes - when Stevens' demeanour causes him to be mistaken for His Lordship, when he is asked to his embarassment to explain the facts of life to His Lordship's betrothed nephew and when he is quizzed by one of his employer's politician guests as a representative sample of the working classes. Each of these confirm that he is a dying breed of dinosaur from a feudal age, an unquestioning and naive bond slave in a world turned sour and cynical and how ineffectual as a human being. As storm clouds gather over Europe, political lies and intrigue mirror the confusion in Stevens' household and relationships and both he and his employer ultimately and tragically suffer from an inability to recognise the truth. Behind the facade of dignified gentility, and a veneer of unwavering formality, the inner turmoil within the political arena, the house, the staff and Steven's own conscience make this an intense and absorbing read on many levels. He is an intensely maddening and yet touchingly likeable character. Absolutely fascinating and totally realistic. A top ten novel of the 20th century.