Sometimes you come to a book with lots of prior expectations, this can be because you know the writer but more frequently these days it is because you have watched the film first, for me this was one such book.
It is almost impossible to review the book separate to the film in my eyes so I will probably refer to both, it is actually very easy to do as the film is fairly faithful to the book as adaptations go.
I think the best way to begin is to start with a clip because this will demonstrate a very important aspect of viewing before reading.
For me when reading the book it was impossible to hear Steven’s voice in any other tones than those of Anthony Hopkins, I find if I read a book first although I may visualise a character in my mind it is easier to adapt those thoughts than it is to remove an image placed there by watching a film first. While in this case Hopkins plays the character perfectly and with such skill this is not an issue, I have found that it is not always the case and can make put me off reading a book if I have not enjoyed the film.
As previously mentioned Hopkins does play the main character Steven’s incredibly well and brings to life the complex character which can be found within the pages of the book. I have to confess my ignorance when I first watched the film to the nationality of the writer, and my surprise at learning the author was Japanese. Yet in many ways it is not surprising that it sound be an ‘outsider’ who is best suited to look with an impartial eye at not only the class system but also what that meant in terms of loyalty, the suppression of personal opinion and the subservience to another without question. Many Eastern cultures have those same elements explicit within their own histories and it is not surprising comparisons can be drawn between what on first viewing may appear to be completely different backgrounds. Steven’s is an intelligent man, his choice therefore to remain loyal to his master despite the fact in his heart and mind he could see the failings is something which many of us today could not imagine adhering to. But the Remains of the Day is not simply the story of a butler and his master, it is much much more.
This book is a commentary on social class at a time when the world was changing, it is about relationships, not just the romantic thread which tenuously links Stevens and Miss Kenton but about the relationships between, master and servant, father and son, friends, and colleagues. It is a story which discusses the implications of placing trust and faith in others judgement, especially when it comes to the world in general, to the changes where once gentlemen resolved issues over dinner rather than professional politicians. This last point is shown in the next clip…
And one does find oneself questioning afterwards whether those amateurs could have resolved things differently to the professionals, I do not suggest for one minute that the events discussed in this book and film in regards to the second world war were correct nor that there could have been a different outcome, rather it is a simple observation that since that war not a day passes around the world where one of those ‘professionals’ is not involved in a war somewhere.
Possibly the problem is simply there are no longer enough ‘gentlemen’ left in the world to make a difference, possibly there were never enough and that is how we ended up where we are.
This is a book that does make you ask questions, and they are not comfortable ones, nether are they questions upon which you can ever really settle upon a firm one size fits all answer.
It is interesting to hear a little from the author himself…
I think it is his point regarding the complicity in lies which is really at the centre of this book, the lies we tell to others, the lies we tell to ourselves, the truths we deny for a better nights sleep.
I give this book 5 out of 5 and highly recommend reading it, it is slow paced compared to a lot of books but I think this is erfect for a book which fires up so many questions which require careful consideration.