I am pretty sure I have seen the film with Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, and this book has been sitting on my shelf for awhile. The library recently acquired an audio copy.
Mr. Stevens has spent a lifetime in service to Lord Darlington. After Darlington’s death, his estate is sold to an American who retains him – almost as a relic from a bygone era. Which he totally is. After receiving a letter from a long gone housekeeper (with whom he was rather tight and who seems to be in some marital distress), he heads out on holiday in the new boss’ Ford. His reflections on his own career are the basis of the story.
There are two main trains in his thoughts and they sort of meander to the same point: whether he has had a life of meaning. The first is his totally devoted service to Lord Darlington. The underlying question is whether Darlington was a good man doing good things, thus meriting such devotion. The second is the nature of his relationship with Miss Kenton, the housekeper in question, who left the service to marry “an acquaintance” many years ago.
The first person perspective makes it pretty difficult for a reader to judge the answers to these questions, but I expect that was part of the point. It also displayed zero sexual tension in the relationship with Miss Kenton, which also makes some sense when hearing the entire thing from Stevens’ point of view. The themes of dignity and duty invade every scene.
There are some moments of the absurd – Dude seriously asked the butler to talk with the grown godson about the facts of life – but mostly it is all rather sad. Going to go read something fun now.