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258 pages, Paperback
First published May 1, 1989
“The evening's the best part of the day. You've done your day's work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.”I suppose what one really needs at the end of it all, in the twilight of life, is to know that it was worth something, that there was some meaning, some purpose to it. Because if it was all in vain, why even try?
“However, if a butler is to be of any worth to anything or anybody in life, there must surely come a time when he ceases his searching; a time when he must say to himself: 'This employer embodies all that I find noble and admirable. I will hereafter devote myself to serving him.”Stevens, the most unreliable narrator, manages to show us so much more precisely through the things that he fails to tell the reader. It's what's left unsaid that paints the real picture - the disappointments, the loss, the lonely empty existence intentionally devoid of love and warmth.
“It is hardly my fault if his lordship's life and work have turned out today to look, at best, a sad waste - and it is quite illogical that I should feel any regret or shame on my own account.”Stevens in his earnest devotion remains loyal to the memory of Lord Darlington, never fully admitting that the man he had spent his life serving and admiring was in fact not so great. And how can he? After all, he has based his entire self-worth, his entire sense of being on devotedly serving a supposedly great and noble man, feeling that in some little way he, Stevens, had something to do with shaping the fate of the world. Openly admitting that Lord Darlington's made huge mistakes would shatter Stevens' entire self, making everything useless - missing his father's death, going along with bigotry and prejudice, and giving up a chance at love, warmth and human companionship.
“The fact is, of course," I said after a while, "I gave my best to Lord Darlington. I gave him the very best I had to give, and now - well - I find I do not have a great deal more left to give.”The Remains of the Day is a book of loss and love and regret, of things that define us and shape us, about trust and loyalty misplaced and hopes and dreams crushed, of selective memory and carefully constructed in self-defense universes that let us try to be what we aspire to be, and the cold brush with reality that inevitably comes. To borrow Stevens' pained unexpected revelation, “Indeed — why should I not admit it? — in that moment, my heart was breaking.”
“Lord Darlington wasn't a bad man. He wasn't a bad man at all. And at least he had the privilege of being able to say at the end of his life that he made his own mistakes. His lordship was a courageous man. He chose a certain path in life, it proved to be a misguided one, but there, he chose it, he can say that at least. As for myself, I cannot even claim that. You see, I trusted. I trusted in his lordship's wisdom. All those years I served him, I trusted I was doing something worthwhile. I can't even say I made my own mistakes. Really - one has to ask oneself - what dignity is there in that?”
“After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”Wonderful. 5 stars.
"forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? ... while it is all very well to talk of 'turning points', one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect. Naturally, when one looks back to such instances today, they may indeed take the appearance of being crucial, precious moments in one's life; but of course, at the time, this was not the impression one had. Rather, it was as though one had available a never-ending number of days, months, years in which to sort out the vagaries of one's relationship[s]....; an infinite number of further opportunities in which to remedy the effect of this or that misunderstanding...."; and, "perhaps... there is something to [the] advice that. . . that [one] should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of the day";and, conversely,
“If you are under the impression you have already perfected yourself, you will never rise to the heights you are no doubt capable of.”
“After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”
“But what is the sense in forever speculating what might have happened had such and such a moment turned out differently? One could presumably drive oneself to distraction in this way. In any case, while it is all very well to talk of 'turning points', one can surely only recognize such moments in retrospect.